Before the curtain rose, I was hooked. As is my typical routine, I leafed through the playbill and literally laughed out loud at the custom page titled, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Attending the Theatre”. Among my favorites: “A Gentleman never kicks the seat of the audience member in front of him (unless of course, it’s deserved)”, and “A Gentleman always stands to let other theatergoers seated in his row pass by. Tripping them is optional.” Instantly, my expectations were raised by this cheeky insert and I knew that I would be in store for for a good time. I sorely underestimated just how marvelous a time I would have.
Broadway’s A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is in a word, brilliant. I hesitate to use that adjective since it is frequently overused for the undeserved. Yet under Darko Tresnjak’s deft directorial hand, Gentleman’s Guide.. can proudly and properly take its’ rightful place among the realm of theatrical brilliance.
This high spirited Victorian-era musical opens with Monty Navarro (Bryce Pinkham), a financially strapped bachelor who learns that his recently deceased mother was a member of the D’Ysquith family, an extremely wealthy clan who tend to thumb their noses at the less fortunate. As Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith (Jefferson Mays) points out in song: “I Don’t Understand the Poor.” For Navarro, that isn’t much of an issue. Lord Adalbert won’t be alive much longer. Neither will the rest of the D’Ysquith family. The cunning Navarro, who is eighth in line to inherit the throne, plans to extinguish each member until he at last, is the successor. While he hacks away at the lineage, you’ll be on the edge of your seats glued to every clever line and rolling in the aisles at each murderous outcome.
There is so much genius rolled into this single show, beginning with Robert L. Freedman’s book and lyrics. Based on the 1949 British film, Kind Hearts and Coronets, Freedman’s book is quick-witted and smart, combining both silly slapstick with high-brow humor. Composer and Co-lyricist Steven Lutvak has graced us with delightfully catchy offerings of Gilbert and Sullivan proportions. With beautiful lush melodies and tuneful patter songs, Lutvak’s music is the best original score heard in quite some time.
Jefferson Mays. Again–sheer brilliance. Mays plays not only one D’Ysquith family member, but all eight–men AND women! How is this possible? It is a feat that must be seen, as mere description does not do it justice. Bryce Pinkham’s gold-digging Navarro oozes more confidence and charm than James Bond at a roulette table. His laissez faire attitude towards murder is disturbing, but is done with such ease, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear. The methods by which the D’Ysquiths are eighty-sixed are comic gold. Let’s just say you may never look at beekeeping in quite the same way. Lisa O’Hare and Lauren Worsham sparkle as two of the love interests (Sibella Hallward and Phoebe D’Ysquith, respectively) . A particularly intricate scene between all three ensues in Act II (“I’ve decided to Marry You”). Stage and screen legend Jane Carr delights as the doting, daffy Miss Shingle and the stiff-upper- lipped ensemble reeks of impeccable propriety.
Aside from taking awhile to generate steam, Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is a fine-tuned Stradivarius and the best new original musical to hit Broadway in ages. Not since OJ Simpson’s infamous trial bombarded American televisions has romance and murder been so entertaining. I guarantee you’ll have a great time, but if you don’t, remember that this critique is simply my opinion: Please don’t kill me.
“A Gentleman’s Guide To Love and Murder” now playing at the Walter Kerr Theater 219 W. 48th street (between Broadway and 8th ave.) Tickets available at the box office, by phone:800-432-7250, or www.telecharge.com