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A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
Book and Lyrics by Robert L. Freedman, Music and Lyrics by Steven Lutvak
Directed by Darko Tresnjak
The Fox Theatre
September 13, 2016

John Rapson, Kevin Massey Photo by Joan Marcus A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder National Tour

John Rapson, Kevin Massey
Photo by Joan Marcus
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder National Tour

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is an apt title for 2014’s Tony Award winner for Best Musical, based on a early 20th Century novel by Roy Horniman that also served as the inspiration for the 1949 English film Kind Hearts and Coronets. The musical is now on tour and stopping in St. Louis at the Fox Theatre, where the ornate decor and style suit the piece well. A gleeful tale of one man’s rise to a position of nobility through less than noble means, this show is certainly full of laughs and very cleverly written and produced, even though its message is ultimately somewhat disturbing.

We first meet Montague “Monty”  Navarro (Kevin Massey) in his prison cell as he writes a diary of how he came to be so incarcerated. It seems that Monty grew up in humble circumstances, but shortly after the death of his mother, her childhood nanny, Miss Shingle (Mary VanArsdel) appears and informs him that his mother was a member of the famous D’Ysquith family, who disinherited her when she married Monty’s late father, a musician from Spain. Monty also finds out that he’s ninth in line for the Earldom of Highhurst, and goes about first trying to be accepted as a member of the family. When the family still refuses to acknowledge his mother, Monty goes about ingratiating himself to the various family heirs and, one by one, helping them to an early demise. Meanwhile, Monty’s girlfriend Sibella (Kristen Beth Williams), doesn’t initially believe his family story and marries another man for the money, but that doesn’t stop her from still being involved with Monty on the side. Monty, meanwhile, also meets and enters into a flirtation with his cousin Phoebe D’Ysquith (Adrienne Eller), who isn’t in the way in the line of succession so he views her an ideal marriage possibility, which prompts jealousy from Sibella. The story follows Monty as he navigates his way through the succession and his increasingly complicated romantic entanglements. Also, in a clever casting conceit, most of the D’Ysquiths are played by the same actor (John Rapson). It’s a fast-paced, quick witted show that chronicles Monty’s amoral machinations in a tuneful, humorous manner.

The casting here is uniformly excellent, with special kudos to Rapson for playing so many D’Ysquiths (both male and female) with such energy and flair. Massey is equally good as the charming, scheming Monty, working well opposite Rapson as his various relatives and potential victims, and opposite both of his love interests. Williams is superb as the materialistic, jealous Sibella and Eller is especially excellent as the eager, devoted Phoebe. The best moment in the show is the song “I’ve Decided to Marry You”, in which Phoebe shows up at Monty’s apartment not knowing Sibella is there, and Monty is desperately torn between them. It’s a hilarious, impeccably staged moment. There are also strong performances from VanArsdel as the unpredictable Miss Shingle and Kristen Mengelkoch as the present Earl’s wife, the haughty, combative Lady Eugenia. The main cast members are supported well by a cohesive, energetic ensemble, making the lively songs and various stylized production numbers from the opening “A Warning to the Audience” to the summarizing “Finale” crackle with energy, wit, and morbid humor.

This is an extremely good looking production, filling out the Fox stage well and fitting ideally into that venue. The ingenious set by Alexander Dodge recreates an old fashioned music hall stage that conveniently adapts and adjusts to the various changes of setting. The costumes by Linda Cho are richly and gloriously detailed as well, suggesting both the period and the show’s whimsical tone perfectly. There’s also adept use of lighting by Philip S. Rosenberg, stylish and whimsical wig and hair design by Charles G. LaPointe, and spectacular use of projections by Aaron Rhyne. The whole look and feel of this piece is of a stylized, over-the-top early 20th Century music hall production.

This is an impressive show, with a great score and strong performances, although the story does have a calculated coldness about it that makes it more than a little unsettling at times. That tone is probably intentional, although it does come across at times as being a little too self-consciously pretentious. Still, the cast members are clearly enjoying themselves, and their energy is infectious and effective. It’s a clever show, and a visual and auditory treat. It’s definitely worth checking out while it’s in town.

Kristen Beth Williams, Kevin Massey, Adrienne Eller Photo by Joan Marcus A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder National Tour

Kristen Beth Williams, Kevin Massey, Adrienne Eller
Photo by Joan Marcus
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder National Tour

The national tour of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is playing at the Fox Theatre until September 25, 2016. 

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