What’s a little murder among family members?
This week I saw a traveling production of the Broadway musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which won the Tony for best musical in 2014. I’m on quite a streak lately with seeing Broadway shows, though it was nice to see one in the good old 518 for a change. I love going to New York City, obviously, but being able to squeezing in a musical after work without having to travel more than 20 minutes is nice every once in a while. I’m still suffering from my Hamilton hangover – I’ve been listening to the soundtrack pretty much non-stop since it was made available on-line – but I think there’s enough distance that I could be objective and evaluate A Gentleman’s Guide without the shadow of my latest obsession hanging over it. Overall, I enjoyed A Gentleman’s Guide, though it started off a little slowly and some of the comedy was just a little too silly or over-the top for my tastes. It was an entertaining and fun theater experience, but it was something of a trifle. That’s not an insult –trifles are delicious when prepared properly.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder tells the story of Monty Navarro, who discovers after his mother’s death that he is actually a member of the prominent D’Ysquith family. His mother was disinherited and expelled when she dared marry for love instead of money and had no contact with the family since before Monty was born. The Navarros lived a meager life – Monty’s mother made ends meet as a washerwoman after his father died – which has left Monty in a poor position as a potential suitor for Sibella Hallward, the woman who he loves. Monty, it turns out, is actually ninth in line to inherit the earldom of Highhurst and he isn’t particularly patient to wait to reap the benefits of his ancestry. When his attempt to reconnect with his estranged family is spurned and with Sibella poised to marry a man of more substantial means, Monty decided that he just may have to help remove the heirs that stand in his way. It’s a dark premise, but it’s totally done for laughs. Despite the early warning to the audience that they may be disturbed by the events that unfold at the beginning of the play, the violence and murder that ensues is completely comedic.
As Monty, Kevin Massey was completely charming and likable; it’s hard to be on board with a character that is systematically knocking off his family members one by one, but somehow you’re still kind of rooting for Monty in his pursuit. Though Monty is the main character, the real star of the show was John Rapson, who takes on the impressive feat of playing all the members of the D’Ysquith family that must be assassinated – male and female. Which each new character, Rapson seemed focused on outdoing what he had done with the character before and he mostly succeeds. The D’Ysquith family members are an odd lot and have their quirks, but Rapson makes them each their own character. He makes the show with his many incarnations – it’s really quite the challenge for an actor to play nine different characters through the run of the show. Some get more stage time than others, but he nailed it every time. The women of the show – the aforementioned Sibella (Kristen Beth Williams) and a D’Ysquith cousin Phoebe (Adrienne Eller), who is also a potential love interest for Monty – were very strong as well. The performances were universally fantastic; it may not be the original Broadway cast, but there was no discernible drop off in quality. Everyone did a really great job.
The pacing of the slow leaves a little something to be desired; it took me a while to fully warm up to A Gentleman’s Guide as the first act gets off to a very slow start. Once it gets going it is fun, but you have to stick it out a bit. The first few numbers are kind of forgettable, but once the murdering starts, the musical finds its footing and becomes more enjoyable. The couple sitting next to me didn’t return after the intermission, which was a little surprising. I guess they just weren’t into it – or perhaps they found empty seats elsewhere (though we were in the third row, so it would have been hard to find better seats). I didn’t love the ending of the show either – it felt a little rushed and the resolution was– but the majority of the second act is strong as well. The songs aren’t totally memorable – I’d be hard pressed to name more than a few of them only two days after seeing the musical – but they serve their purpose during the course of the show and are engaging while they are being performed.
A Gentleman’s Guide is a farce and sometime the sillier aspects of the show just didn’t connect with me. For the most part, the jokes landed for me, but there are few scenes where it was just too over-the-top for me. Silliness is fine, but this crossed the line for ridiculous for me and the characters involved were nothing more than caricatures (if you’ve seen the show, I didn’t dig the dining room scene in particular). It’s not frequent enough to take away from the overall enjoyment of the show, but there were moments where it just took me out of the show for a bit. It’s a tough balance and the rest of the audience seemed to really enjoy some of these puerile aspects of the storyline. A minor complaint; I still enjoyed myself and was entertained.
I don’t know that A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder will stick with me as long as some other musicals, but it was a solid and amusing night at the theater. The story was inventive and engaging and a very strong cast further drew me into the show. I mean, who hasn’t thought about offing a family member at some point? (just kidding mom) Getting to live vicariously through Monty and laughing along with his murderous rampage resulted in a very enjoyable evening. I’d encourage people to check out A Gentleman’s Guide if the opportunity presents itself.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is currently on a national tour and will close on Broadway on January 17, 2016.