This Tony Award-winning Broadway musical offers a tongue-in-cheek look at how the other half lives and follows the twisted path of Montague “Monty” Navarro, as he murders his way to the top of the wealthy and powerful house of D’Ysquith. It has uproarious laughter and duplicitous romantic encounters supported by the soaring voices of a gifted cast.
Don’t be put off by the body count of those who stand in Monty’s way. A powerful and engaging performance by Elliott Litherland ensures that Monty’s charm, good looks, and poise carry the day - and the audience’s sympathies. Besides, most of the people Monty kills seem to have it coming.
Take Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith, an insufferable do-gooder and society matron. To remove her from his path of succession, Monty, in the number “Lady Hyacinth Abroad”, suggests trips to assist the downtrodden in Egypt, India, and the Congo. When the plague and cannibals, fail to render the coup de grace, Monty arranges for an “accident” upon her return to England.
Litherland’s loveable quick-witted scoundrel is never at a loss for a ridiculous scheme to eliminate his next target. For instance, he slips a real bullet into the prop pistol of the dreadful actress, Lady Salome D’Ysquith, playing the suicidal Hedda Gabler.
Part of the fun is that all of the D’Ysquiths in Monty’s way, men and women, are played by the same actor, the mercurial Harry Bouvy. They include the Reverend Lord Ezekiel, a dottering fool, who suffers a Vertigo inspired fatal fall from the cathedral tower after a clever climbing pantomime. Then there’s the bodybuilder Major Lord Bartholomew, crushed by his own barbell, with Monty’s assistance. Bouvy’s piece-de-resistance is Monty’s final obstacle, the heartless Lord Adalbert, who struts about decrying poverty in the patter song, “I Don’t Understand the Poor."
This zany panorama of cold-hearted characters would be incomplete without love interests. Monty has two.
Gina Milo, as self-centered Sibella, plays Monty’s first love. Although she voices her need for Monty early on in “I Don’t Know What I’d Do,” she marries another man for status. The tightly-wound Phoebe, played by soprano Katie Fay Francis, is intent on marrying for love and says as much with a splendid vocal rendition of “Inside Out." Both characters state a desire to be with Monty permanently in a deliciously choreographed door farce duet, “I’ve Decided to Marry You.” To our dismay each achieves their goal in the end.
Although the plot is convoluted by capricious reversals, several elements help the audience follow along. These include Brendan Hollins’ musical direction and Darlene Veenstra’s costumes. Jeremy Barnett’s scenic design, with a handsomely appointed stage, is capable of quick changes, ingenious use of projections, and a theatrical presentation true to the period. Finally, Kurt Stamm’s direction lifts the entire production. The crisp movement, handling of props thrown back and forth from the wings, and execution of the deep bend embraces between Monty and his love interests, are welcome trademarks of Stamm’s style.
Based on the response from Tuesday’s full house, “A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder” is an excellent bet to please summer audiences.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the actress playing the role of Sibella. We regret the error.
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