“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Walter Kerr Theatre (Closed January 17, 2016)

November 26, 2013 | Broadway | Tags:
Book and Lyrics by Robert L. Freedman
Music and Lyrics by Steven Lutvak
Directed by Darko Tresnjak
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is a rollicking romp through the hilarious escapades of Monty Navarro (Bryce Pinkham) as he eagerly disposes of any relative who appears to be an obstacle in his desire to become the heir to the Earl of Highhurst and the D’Ysquith family fortune. It is a sumptuous theatrical feast that serves up seven delectable courses of death and murder, accompanied by two delicious vintage love affairs, with flavors that are complex and combustible. This delectation is presented with wonderful melodic music, clever lyrics and incredibly detailed, lush period costumes by Linda Cho that capture every mood and scene to perfection.

Based on the novel by Roy Horniman, “A Gentleman’s Guide to love and Murder” is an intricate and subtle blend of theatrical styles subsuming an extraordinary amalgam of operetta, farce, quick change magic and pure exceptional good old fashioned musical comedy that is fun and filled with endless laughter. Admirably it is packed with over the top characters that never rely on offensive language or politically incorrect situations or commentary to produce humor, even though there is plenty of perfectly executed innuendo. Deftly directed by Darko Tresnjak, it moves at lightning speed and never misses a beat or an opportunity to extract a laugh from the tightly well crafted script.

The cast is brilliant and ever so generous to the audience and to one other. Bryce Pinkham is inexhaustible, remaining onstage for the entire performance except for a couple of moments to catch his breath. His vocals are delivered with pure controlled tone, precise diction and accompanied by facial expressions that rival the most revered silent movie icons. His interpretation of “Foolish to Think” is wonderful and will help make this song become a Broadway standard for years to come. Jefferson Mays is a wonderment who embodies eight different characters with broad appeal and manages complete costume changes with incredible precision and timing. He is the master of quick change artistry.

Lisa O’Hare commands the stage as the naughty lover Sibella Hallward and creates a devilishly impudent character with a heavenly soprano vocal. Lauren Worsham is a delight as the wholesome, demure fiancé Pheobe D’Ysquith who is as sincere and stable as her fluent and robust vocal quality which enhances every scene she encounters. Jane Carr is exceptional as the stout, caring, lovingly diabolical Miss Shingle. The entire ensemble is more than capable as they mold definitive characters, create scenes that compliment the bedlam, and explode with enthusiasm as they tread upon the magnificent Victorian set designed by Alexander Dodge.

Characterization, stage craft, direction, and song collide throughout the musical but perhaps in a no more memorable way than in “I’ve Decided to Marry You” the delicious dining-room farce scene that emerges from Monty’s memory as he awaits the jury’s determination on his guilt or innocence. In this tantalizing play within a play (all things lovely and murderous are at least once removed from the conscience of the audience), Monty fends off the affections of former flame Sibella (who on all counts is just shy of ‘Isabella’) and current interest Phoebe of the family D’Ysquith. Courting Phoebe in the parlor while fending off Sibella in the boudoir becomes a hilarious ménage a trois with Monty often barricaded in the hallway between the two rooms opening one door then the other to engage his suitors.

It was never a movie; it is not a jukebox musical; and there are no film stars to draw audiences: “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” holds its own and is precisely what Broadway needs. Mr. Freedman and Mr. Lutvak have concocted a musical comedy that resonates with a freshness and spontaneity that is imaginative, inventive and will certainly stand the test of time.