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'A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder'

John Rapson (Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith) and Cast in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder (photo by Joan Marcus)

We welcome this review from new theater contributor Philip Dickerson.

Stella Adler once said, “The theater was created to tell people the truth about life in the social situation.” If that is true there was no better time for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, the 2013 musical by John Rapson and Kevin Massey Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, to open at the Kennedy Center than the night that the multibillion-dollar Powerball numbers were chosen. (The show, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical last year, has just closed on Broadway.) While everyone pondered all the things one might do with the Powerball jackpot, few likely discussed the lengths one might go to achieve such a fortune, or how that fortune, once achieved, might change a person.

The star of this non-stop, quick-paced, larger-than-life comedy is Monty Navarro (played by Kevin Massey), an earnest young bachelor living a quiet life in remote England. Grieving over the recent death of his mother, he discovers that he is a distant relative of, and possible heir to the famous D’Ysquith family. Resolved to avenge his late mother, who was cast out by the D’Ysquiths, Navarro reaches out to Lord-to-be Asquith D’Ysquith Jr. (John Rapson), who dismisses it. Undeterred, Navarro seeks out the six other heirs to the D’Ysquith fortune, all played with incredible energy by Rapson, embarking on a journey of love, murder, and a hint of revenge.

The production is filled with tight physical and vocal performances. The style is reminiscent, perhaps too much, of the 2005 hit Spamalot, heavy on tongue-twisting lyrics and instantly memorable melodies. The vocal casting hit its peak about a third of the way through the production with the entrance of Adrienne Eller's Phoebe D’Ysquith. Her quirky curiosity and genuine desire to connect with someone draw her close to Monty Navarro, who is of course not your typical D’Ysquith. Eller’s soprano voice gives life to her first duet with Massey during the song Inside Out and is a continued treat throughout the rest of the evening.

Other Articles:

Nelson Pressley, Tony winner ‘Gentleman’s Guide’ is good but not a killer (Washington Post, January 14)

Kristen Page-Kirby, ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder’ tests the show’s star dresser (Washington Post, January 13)
The character of Phoebe D’Ysquith also provides one thing the show would otherwise be lacking, and that is someone to hope in. As Navarro moved closer towards his fortune he also falls farther down the hole of greed and away from the genuine hero we saw in the beginning. Eller’s portrayal of Phoebe gives us a pure ray of “good,” one that we hope can pull Navarro back toward his old self.

In the end, this production is a night of enjoyment. Strong performances from Massey and Eller are matched by Rapson’s endless arsenal of D’Ysquith family members. When considering the bottomless bag of gags and tricks Rapson displayed, one must also applaud the team of costumers backstage ready to create a new D’Ysquith in seconds. Add in an extremely well-rounded cast of talented actors, a clever and colorful set by Alexander Dodge, and lighting by Philip S. Rosenberg, and you are left with a show that does not disappoint.

This production runs through January 30, in the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater. Run time is about 2 hours and 45 minutes, including a 15 minute intermission.

CORRECTION--In the first version of this review, the creators of the musical were mistakenly identified as John Rapson and Kevin Massey, who played the lead roles. Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak created the musical.

1 comment:

Philip Amos said...

It does seem very much as if this musical was based on the famous 1949 movie, Kind Hearts and Coronets. The only departure from the story in the movie is the ending of the musical. I'm surprised that wasn't mentioned. Alec Guinness famously played eight roles in the movie, all to be killed by Dennis Price, the son cast out of the family because he was illegitimate. I knew one of the writers of that movie, later to be a very distinguished theatre critic and writer, and I'm not sure he'd be pleased with this. Others might take it as an homage. But it should be acknowledged.