National Tour Theater Review: A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER (Bank of America)

Post image for National Tour Theater Review: A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER (Bank of America)

by Lawrence Bommer on October 1, 2015

in Theater-Chicago,Theater-Regional,Tours

KILLING COUSINS

John Rapson as Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith in A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER National Tour. Photo by Joan Marcus.Serial killers can be fun. In the film Theatre of Blood Vincent Price sardonically played a Shakespearean actor, a hate-filled ham who doggedly “offs” the critics who panned him. (He snuffs out each scribe in endgames inspired by the Bard.) Who’s Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? was a less important question than watching them succumb to their own venality. And in 1949 the great Sir Alec Guinness played eight very deserving victims in Kind Hearts and Coronets, an Ealing Studio masterpiece. Inspiring that wicked movie and the Tony-winning A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (notice the order of importance in the title) is Roy Horniman’s Adventures of a Criminal (though you’d never know from the grudging credit on the title page, all but unreadable in pitifully small type). But Horniman deserves as much glory as Robert L. Freedman’s clever book and lyrics and lyricist Steven Lutvak’s supple, Sullivan-style score: Horniman elaborately constructed a thoroughly satisfying “revenge comedy” that confirms Sweeney Todd’s sweet sentiment on future corpses: “They all deserve to die.”

Adrienne Eller and Kevin Massey in A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER National Tour. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Long before our plutocratic “1 %” excited envy, inspired gluttony and incurred wrath, ahead of Trading Places and Life Stinks, the Brits, ever addicted to Gilbert and Sullivan’s “topsy turvy,” had all but patented class hatred. Masquerading as a playful Edwardian pantomime, this delicious 2013 musical turns systematic slaughter into an art form. It helps to have a major motivation: It’s 1909 and our sociopath hero, Monty Navarro, is simply avenging the slights inflicted on his sweet mother by snobbish relations who denied her–and now his–birthright to be a patrician D’Ysquith.

The cast with Kevin Massey (left) and Megan Loomis as Tour Guide (right) in A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER National Tour. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Retroactively revenging his mother’s humiliation, he accidentally, then deliberately, proceeds to eliminate the eight cousins who stand in the way between him and his presumed earldom. (“La vendetta!” as Verdi put it.) Heirs apparent, it seems, aren’t quite so apparent after all. Add to that how, contrary to Tru TV, there are more than “1,000 ways to die.” Monty’s “exit strategies” include church steeples, barbells, bees, cannibals, ice, heart attacks, stage guns, and, of course, “poison in my pocket.”

The cast with John Rapson in A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER National Tour. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Broadway in Chicago’s presentation of the U.S. tour makes a too-brief visit (closing October 11) to the appropriately ornate Bank of America Theatre (the tour continues through Feb., 2017). Delightfully directed by Darko Tresnjak, Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is performed on Alexander Dodge’s elaborate proscenium pop-up stage: Its deft prop changes and astonishing projections set the skewering scenes with swift pictorial perfection. From his prison cell (he’s perversely incarcerated for the one murder he didn’t do), Monty Navarro-D’Ysquith (handsome devil Kevin Massey) regales us with his memoirs: Flashbacks depict the not so dark doings on the storybook stage.

The cast with John Rapson as Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith (red) in A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER National Tour. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Evening the odds, Monty simply proceeds to put his fellow D’Ysquiths in their place–six feet under. With true Mystery of Irma Vep dexterity, over a hilarious 150 minutes merry prankster John Rapson plays each worthy D’Ysquith casualty with caricatured precision. Rapson paints a one-man rogues gallery of twits, ninnies, rotters, cads and bounders worthy of P.G. Wodehouse. In the process Rapson deftly apes the insufferable arrogance of unearned entitlement.

John Rapson, Megan Loomis, and Kevin Massey in A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER National Tour. Photo by Joan Marcus.

We encounter the haughty Lord Adalbert (“I Don’t Understand The Poor”), intrepid explorer Lady Hyacinth, fatuous Reverend Ezekial, insipid scion Asquith Jr., nelly poofster Henry, suffragette tragedienne (more than she knows) Lady Salome, and Chauncey, an equally impecunious pretender waiting in the wings (much like Anne Baxter, whose predatory undertudy Eve Harrington targets Bette Davis’s diva Margo Channing in All About Eve). Lurking in the background is self-effacing Miss Shingle (Mary VanArsdel), a friend of Monty’s mother who’s quite capable of pulling off a “deus ex machina” as needed.

Lesley McKinnell, Kevin Massey and John Rapson in A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER National Tour. Photo by Joan Marcus.

When Monty isn’t shortening lives and shrinking lineages, he negotiates a love life as tangled as his successful succession to the D’Ysquith fortune. Fortune huntress Sibella Hallward (flirtatious Kristen Beth Williams) mischievously trifles with Monty’s affections as she pursues the more marriageable (and unseen) Lionel. Irritated by this ice princess, Monty finds warmth and reassurance from his demure cousin Phoebe (Adrienne Eller). In the duet “Inside Out” Monty and Phoebe croon the comedy’s theme–the danger and delight of playing appearances against actuality. It’s not easy to assiduously balance the gold digger against the ingénue soubrette, both of whom proclaim “I’ve Decided To Marry You.” But long ago Monty learned the importance of being devious.

Kristen Beth Williams, Kevin Massey, Matt Leisy, and Adrienne Eller in A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER National Tour. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Even when the killing spree abates, this mercurial musical has further fun to unleash, including a second-act tableau vivant set in a cemetery (“Why Are All the D’Ysquiths Dying?”), a monumental dinner-banquet spat between the last Lord Adalbert and his venomous Lady Eugenia (Kristen Mengelkoch), a properly nonsensical trial scene, and at least two twists worthy of Saki or O. Henry. If Guide were any more fiendishly funny, it would explode. The theater escapes detonation by two jokes at most.

Kristen Beth Williams, Kevin Massey and Adrienne Eller in A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER National Tour. Photo by Joan Marcus.

photos by Joan Marcus

Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro and Mary VanArsdel in A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER National Tour. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Kristen Beth Williams and Kevin Massey in A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER National Tour. Photo by Joan Marcus.A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
national tour
continues thru February, 2017
for tickets, tour cities and dates,
visit Gentleman’s Guide

Comments on this entry are closed.