Utterly charming in concept, form and execution, the originality of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is a breath of fresh air in the modern-day miasma of movie-musicals.Nifty performances, snazzy design and witty lyrics are highlights of this intelligent, appealing, thoroughly enjoyable new musical.
Ensconced upstate in Pentonville prison, Montague Navarro D’Ysquith shares his reminiscences of the grisly series of events that led to his incarceration. Following the death of his dear mother, Monty learns that he is actually a D’Ysquith, and only eight family members stand in the way of his assumption of the title Earl of High Hearst. One by one, Monty meets and murders his relatives, in increasingly gruesome ways.
It’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood meets Little Me as a lively troupe of 11 players present the story in merry Music Hall style, with a tour de force central performance for one actor to play all eight variegated members of the doomed D’Ysquith family.
The freshness of the show is surely due in no small part to the freshness of the creative team. Composer Steven Lutvak (music and lyrics) makes his main stem debut, as does choreographer Peggy Hickey, with director Darko Tresnjak and book/lyrics writer Robert L. Freedman also relative newcomers to Broadway. Lutvak’s music is pleasantly catchy on first listen, with Lutvak and Freedman’s deliciously witty lyrics sure to pay dividends on repeat scrutiny of the cast recording.
Director Tresnjak keeps energy and pace at festively frothy levels, and has the tight cast all exactly on the same page, so to speak, in terms of style and dynamism. Rather than just providing an attractive backdrop, Alexander Dodge’s scenic design is completely integrated with the action, with the toy theatre stage-within-a-stage providing plenty of useful trap doors and cheeky sight gags. Linda Cho’s costumes are ravishing, particularly for the female characters.
In a pair of terrific star turns, Bryce Pinkham and Jefferson Mays carry the show, with verve and projection befitting the Music Hall conceit. Pinkham is the wide-eyed, ingenuous hero, whose increasingly manic desperation drives the murderous plot. Besides having charisma and magnetism to spare, Pinkham has a fine Broadway tenor voice that is a pleasure to hear; his act two love ballad “Sibella” is a highlight in this regard.
Mays (I Am My Own Wife) progressively raises the stakes of his eight characters with a fully realised set of quirky traits, ticks and types that are consistently amusing. His fast changes at times defying belief, Mays manages to not only fully change hair, make up and clothing, he also clearly delineates the body language and focus of each eccentric character. Best of all, Mays appears to be having as much fun on stage as we are having while watching him.
Fine boned beauty Lisa O’Hare channels Keira Knightley as beautiful young Sibella Hallward, a woman saddled with pressure of marrying for money not love. O’Hare lands the vacuous tongue in cheek humour with aplomb and sings ever so sweetly. Unable to snare Sibella, Monty moves on to Phoebe D’Ysquith, played with ready charm of her own by Lauren Worsham. As act two progresses, a fierce love triangle develops between Monty, Sibella and Phoebe, peaking in the wonderful trio “I’ve Decided to Marry You.”
Currently promoting itself as “the best reviewed new musical of the season,” A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is just about the most fun a theatregoing adult could hope to find.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder was reviewed 3pm 13 April 2014 at Walter Kerr Theatre, New York, where it is playing an open-ended run.