Broadway World Review

A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER at The Engeman

March 22, 2019
By Melissa Giordano

It is a real treat that The John W. Engeman Theatre is currently mounting A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder. The top-notch cast is remarkable leaving the audience in stitches. The hit show plays the beautiful Northport venue through April 28th, and it is sure to be a must-see this season.

The two-act farce, wonderfully directed by Trey Compton, tells the tale of Monty who has learned that he is an heir in the famed D’Ysquith family. When he realizes he’s ninth in line, Monty shrugs off his findings thinking the family wouldn’t even know who he is. However, he wonders if he could make it to the top of the family tree by bumping off those who stand in his way. Don’t worry about the murders; this is an all-out comedy.

Indeed collecting the most laughs is Engeman vet Danny Gardner portraying each member of the D’Ysquith family who is before him in the heritance. Mr. Gardner does a tremendous job giving each family member a very distinctive personality and his top-notch comedic delivery. Mr. Gardner makes a great team with Sean Yves Lessard who charmingly portrays Monty. Of course, the women of the cast are stellar. Katherine McLaughlin is adorable as the pious and witty Phoebe D’Ysquith. Moreover, Kate Loprestis superb as sassy Sibella. In truth, I really could go on and on about the entire company as they all extraordinary.

On the talented creative team, Nate Bertone‘s set is well-done. Portraits of Mr. Gardner as each of the D’Ysquith’s hang along the outside of the stage. On the stage, it is mostly a stationary set bringing in rolling pieces for each of the locales. The wigs, perhaps, could have been more to the Engeman’s high standards, but I digress. This is enhanced masterfully by Matthew Solomon‘s relevant costumes from 1900’s London; corsets and suit tails abound. Also, it is always thrilling to see a live band this one excellently headed up by James Olmstead. They deliver the Steven Lutvak/Robert L. Freedman score splendidly.

As you can probably tell, A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder is another hit for Northport’s John W. Engeman Theatre. A remarkable cast and entertaining story make for an enjoyable night of theatre.

 

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The Long Islander Review

Kill and be done in time for tea

March 21, 2019
By Sophia Ricco

Slaying has never been so slick, when it’s done with song and ends in becoming an aristocrat as A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder proves, you can always change life’s path.

Tony Award winner for Best Musical, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder has smashingly slaughtered on Broadway and is ready to entertain audiences at the John W. Engeman Theater until Saturday, April 28.

The show is set in early 20th century England and tells the story of Monty Navarro, played by Sean Yves Lessard, who learns of ancestral ties to the Earl of Highhurst and D’Ysquith family at his mother’s funeral. A woman claiming to know his late parents tells Monty of his mother’s banishment from the D’Ysquith family after choosing to marry a Castilian, in “You’re a D’Ysquith.” Only eight relatives lie between Monty, the title of earl and the family fortune. He plans a little assassination to get himself there.

“It’s been fascinating, in so many ways I am similar to the character,” Lessard said. “But in the most fundamental of ways, I am not, because I am not a serial killer… It’s funny, because even though he is killing these people, every time he does, he contemplates, ‘Should I have done this?’ He’s grappling with his conscience the entire time.”

 

The D’Ysquith family is anything but ordinary. Each member is more comical and hate-able than the next. What’s most impressive, is all eight relatives are played by Danny Gardener, who captures an entire family of personalities. At certain points you wouldn’t believe the same man that played Asquith D’Ysquith Jr., a snooty, rich playboy who unknowingly serenades with Miss Barley and Monty in “Poison in My Pocket,” could become a foolish society lady looking for a charity cause in “Lady Hyacinth Abroad,” within the same act.

“His characters are so specific and different from one another, it makes my job so much easier,” Lessard said. “I treat them as completely different creatures, because he does as well… It’s all different voices, postures, body ticks, inflections and accents, it’s impressive.”

As Monty gets to know members of the D’Ysquith family, he learns the good and bad of his family and society. He proves to be emotionally layered, as he ponders whether to kill his generous employer, Lord Asquith D’Ysquith, Sr. in “The Last One You’d Expect.”

“The way he justifies it is, he’s killing these people, who are all terrible… For every character you take on, you have to be the hero of your own story,” Lessard said. “Every answer to any question has to be, ‘Yes’. So would I have done it? Yes I would have as Monty.” It’s more than just massacre on Monty’s mind, he has two loves that each dominate his world. His mistress, Sibella Hallward played by Kate Loprest, commands his passion, as evident in “I Don’t Know What I’d Do.” That is until, his distant cousin, Phoebe D’Ysquith played by Katherine McLaughlin, turns his world “Inside Out.”

“The redeeming quality of Monty is he loves unconditionally,” Lessard said. “He loves these two women who are the center of his life, he loves Asquith, and he was unconditionally attached to his mother. This is the genesis of it all, was how terribly his mother was treated by the family.”

A favorite with audiences and Lessard himself, the lively song “I’ve Decided to Marry You,” puts Monty literally in the middle of Sibella and Phoebe, as he maneuvers his way between the two rooms that the women are in. It’s a scene that truly has to be witnessed, as Monty swings back and forth from door to door, all the while harmonizing. “It’s a lesson in being able and open to love, but also a cautionary tale to not love too many people at once,” Lessard said.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is showing Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 8 p.m., as well as Saturday, 3 p.m. and Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets: $73-78. Call 631-261-2900 or visit engemantheater.com to purchase.

 

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Smithtown Matters Review

‘A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder’

March 21, 2019
By Jeb Ladouceur

‘A Gentleman’s Guide…’ is unlike any other play you are likely to see this season or … for that matter … ever! Similarly, the musical version of a 1907 novel by Roy Horniman titled ‘Israel Rank – The Autobiography of a Criminal’ is quite possibly a reviewer’s worst nightmare, because no fewer than eight (count ‘em) eight of the dozen major roles are played over a 150-minute span by a single actor (Danny Gardner)!
If the madcap goings on … about conniving heir Monty Navarro (played by Sean Yves Lessard) who is ninth in succession to inherit the family fortune … were not so convincingly conceived by writer Robert L. Freedman (he adapted the farce for the stage), and cleverly choreographed by Vincent Ortega (a comic genius if ever there was one), it might be impossible closely to follow the proceedings that tumble across the John W. Engeman proscenium in a torrent of hilarity.
But the sly Navarro rivets our attention by figuring out novel ways to knock off those relatives who stand between him and the jackpot he covets. These dastardly devices include everything from death by bee sting, to decapitation while weightlifting. It’s all very farcical stuff, but this critic has seldom had as much fun in the theater.
Highlight of the evening is a vaudeville-style song and dance routine featuring two males that once might have been thought a bit naughty, but in our so-called ‘progressive’ age, has to be considered rather tame. It’s titled ‘Better With a Man’ and that said, one need not go into further detail to describe its content. Suffice it to say, hoofers Lessard and Gardner steal the play with their show-stopping routine. It’s very funny … superbly polished material.
Without question, in this musical the supremely talented Danny Gardner has been handed one of the most complex theatrical assignments imaginable. If you thought any actor taking on the dual roles of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde had his hands full, you ain’t seen nuthin’ until you’ve watched (and heard) Gardner act, sing, and dance his way through eight juicy parts (of both sexes, yet) as if he were absolutely born to each role.
But while everyone is good in this show … the workmanlike dressers who see to Gardner’s numerous costume changes, though they are never seen onstage, deserve a special nod of appreciation. Some of these unheralded staffers work their miracles in a matter of 15 or 20 seconds … and that often includes applying and removing the star’s makeup as well as his clothing. Geez! We should have a special category for acknowledging the expertise of such professionals.
Meanwhile, perhaps it will serve to give the plaudits to ‘A Gentleman’s Guide…’ Director, Trey Compton. He will know how the kudos should be distributed. This musical could not possibly work without the diligence of its dressers.

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Times of Huntington-Northport Review

You’ll die laughing at Engeman Theater’s ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’

March 20, 2019
By Melissa Arnold

I never thought I’d cheer for a murderer. Nor did I ever imagine laughing so much at a show about murder. There’s a first time for everything, I guess.

Directed by Trey Compton with musical direction by James Olmstead, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” has a deceptively simple title, one that probably makes you think of a classic, suspenseful whodunit. What you get instead is a fast-paced, absurdly funny comedy that will keep you laughing from start to finish.

Based on the 1907 Roy Horniman novel “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal,” the Tony Award-winning musical, with book by Robert L. Freedman and music by Steven Lutvak, ran on Broadway from 2013 to 2016.

Danny Gardner in a scene from the show. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

As the show begins, we find ourselves looking in on a young man feverishly writing his memoirs from a London jail cell, seeking to preserve his story if he should face execution the next day. That man, Montague “Monty” Navarro, is the newly minted Earl of Highhurst, and his rise to nobility wasn’t exactly noble. Two years earlier, while grieving his mother’s death in 1907, an impoverished Monty learned that she was related to the powerful, aristocratic D’Ysquith family. The D’Ysquiths, however, disowned her when she chose to marry a commoner. Despite this, Monty was the ninth descendant in line to become the earl.

Monty hoped his newfound lineage would impress Sibella Hallward, the posh and sultry woman he loves, but she ultimately abandoned him to marry a wealthy man. With no one else to turn to, he attempted to make inroads with his new relatives, and in the process had a sinister thought: What if he killed the D’Ysquiths? What if he could become the earl? The show follows Monty through flashbacks of the past two years as he eliminates his cousins in a variety of zany and unexpected ways.

Wojcik/Seay Casting consistently assembles stellar casts for the Engeman’s shows, and this one is no exception, featuring a host of Broadway and national theater vets. Sean Yves Lessard plays Monty, and he is earnest, polished and entirely believable. You’ll empathize with his poverty and join him on an emotional roller coaster as he sneakily offs the D’Ysquiths. Beyond that, Lessard’s smooth, controlled vocals are a real treat, especially in the waltzing “Poison in My Pocket” and steamy “Sibella.”

What makes “Gentleman’s Guide” stand out is that eight of the D’Ysquith cousins are played by the same actor, Danny Gardner. He makes the transition from young to old, gay to straight and even male to female characters look entirely effortless. Each D’Ysquith has his or her unique quirks, and Gardner is so astoundingly versatile that you almost won’t believe it’s the same person. He also deserves accolades for impossibly fast costume changes and impressive tap dancing.

A torrid love triangle sits at the heart of Monty’s escapades. Despite her marriage to a wealthy man, Sibella (Kate Loprest) still comes knocking, especially as Monty ascends the line of succession. At the same time, Monty quickly finds himself falling for his distant cousin Phoebe D’Ysquith (Katherine McLaughlin), a good-hearted and pious lady that just wants to love and be loved.

Loprest makes the self-absorbed Sibella almost lovable with charming wit and confidence. She’s also a delight to listen to, a crystal clear soprano that’s strong without being overpowering. McLaughlin’s Phoebe is demure and sincere, a perfect foil to Sibella. She shines in songs like “Inside Out,” and the trio’s performance in “I’ve Decided to Marry You” is one of the show’s highlights.

Scene and props designer Nate Bertone deserves particular mention for his creative work on the detailed, Edwardian set of “Gentleman’s Guide.” To help audience members keep track of the D’Ysquiths, the stage is framed with massive portraits of Gardner in his various incarnations. Spotlights and laser X’s on those portraits will alert you to who’s still kicking and who’s been taken out. The effect is a lot of fun and adds to the show’s overall silliness.

The bottom line: “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is hilarious from the first line, and so enjoyable that I’d love to see it again. The show isn’t gory, but there’s plenty of innuendo to go around, and there are occasional loud noises and use of light fog throughout.

 

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Newsday Review

‘Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’ review: It’ll slay you

Danny Gardner, left, and Sean Yves Lessard star in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the John W. Engeman Theater. Photo Credit: Michael DeCristofaro

March 19, 2019
By: Barbara Schuler

You have to have a lot of faith in a show to start it off with a song that suggests the audience, at least those “faint of heart,” might want to leave. “Blood may spill … so if you’re smart, before we start, you’d best depart,” the cast sings in the opening moments of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport.

No worries. Everyone at the performance I attended stayed in their seats and survived the delightful romp of a show by Robert L. Freedman (book) and Steven Lutvak (music), winner of the Tony Award for best musical in 2014. Unfortunately, that can’t be said for all the characters, any number of whom get bumped off in the course of the show after the impoverished Monty Navarro (Sean Yves Lessard, as adorable a serial killer as you’re likely to meet) learns from a family friend that he’s a member of the prominent D’Ysquith family and ninth in line to become Earl of Highhurst.

Murder and mayhem result as Monty embarks on a campaign to do away with everyone ahead of him in the line of succession — all remarkably played by the talented and hardworking Danny Gardner, last seen at Engeman as Don Lockwood in “Singin’ in the Rain.” Gardner puts all he ever learned in acting class to work as he plays the entire D’Ysquith family, among them the doddering priest, the stodgy banker, the country bumpkin, the aging actress, all coming to their doom (skating accidents, slippery roofs, Monty is quite creative) in a flurry of witty if not especially memorable songs that meet somewhere between operetta and British music hall.

The love part of the title is represented by two young women who have their sights set on Monty — the social climbing Sibella and distant cousin Phoebe played, respectively, by big-voiced Broadway veterans Kate Loprest and Katherine McLaughlin. The triangle comes to a head in the amusing, farcical “I’ve Decided to Marry You” with Monty an absolute riot as he only barely manages to fend off the two ladies.

Director Trey Compton and choreographer Vincent Ortega maintain a brisk pace. The cast (especially Gardner) makes quick changes that are often visible in the background of Nate Bertone’s clever set, bordered by portraits of the D’Ysquith clan that get X’d out as they do. It’s all great fun, which is something you can’t often say about a play with multiple murders. Certainly, who did them is no mystery.

 

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The Theatre Guide Review

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder – John W. Engeman Theater

Katherine McLaughlin, Sean Yves Lessard and Kate Loprest. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

March 19, 2019
By Kristen Weyer.

Who couldn’t use an escape now and then? Come travel back in time and away from reality and reason with A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, now playing at the John W. Engeman Theater. Mischief, mayhem and murder run rampart in this outrageous musical with book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman, and music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak. Their combined genius is on full display the entire production with dizzying displays of immensely clever dialogue and lyrics.  It is easy to see why this show won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical.

With very “British” humor along the lines of Monty Python and Robin Hood: Men in Tights, it’s a little bit slap-stick, fairly dirty, and very irreverent of its subject – mainly murder.  The cast does warn the audience of this in their very first number aptly entitled “A Warning to the Audience” (and then hilariously seem quite perplexed why we didn’t all get up to leave).  It is by no means gruesome, but rather filled with campy death sequences and some exaggerated stage gore. If this is not your cup of tea however, then consider yourself forewarned.

It is London, in the early 1900s. The plot follows the young, handsome, and poor, Monty Navarro (fabulously played by Sean Yves Lessard).  When he learns that his recently deceased mother was really a disinherited member of the noble D’Ysquith Family, he reaches out to them hoping for a job and to be accepted back into the family.  However, after being cruelly rejected he resolves to enact revenge for his poor mother, and what better way than to take his relatives’ place and become the next Earl in their stead. One small problem: there are eight people ahead of him in the succession. Deciding to, shall we say, help them along their way he embarks upon a number of madcap schemes to whittle down his family tree and seize the Earldom for himself.  Throw in a score of zany characters, entertaining songs and a good dose of love and romance and you have the recipe for a fabulously fun night of theater!

This set design is also fun, and the off kilter lines of the stage mimic the crazy line of the story; Scenic and Prop Designer Nate Bertone did very well with that parallel. Wonderful sound effects by designer Laura Shubert bring multiple scenes to life and enhance the production.  Gorgeous historical costuming by designer Matthew Solomon set the time period and the characters.  The talent of the orchestra, under direction from James Olmstead, is on continual display; they performed impressively.

Danny Gardner and Sean Yves Lessard. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

Lessard plays Monty with a killer combination of easy charm, dashing good looks and incredible vocals.  He switches with apparent ease from gorgeous held notes, to fast paced, tongue-twisting lyrics without losing tonality or clarity.  Monty’s polar opposite love interests are both portrayed with superb talent and brilliant acumen.  The sultry and coquettish Sibella is beautifully played by Kate Loprest, while Katherine McLaughlin charmingly portrays the demure and honest, Phoebe.  Both women bring charm, vivacity and humor to their characters while also treating the audience to their lovely vocals. Taylor Galvin gives some very funny moments as Lady Eugenia, and Matthew Patrick Quinn impresses with his low baritone.

While it is true that the entire cast did a wonderful job, including every member of the ensemble, the star of this production is Danny Gardner who plays the D’Ysquith Family.  Now you might be thinking, “Wait a minute, did she just say family? As in all 8 members of the previously mentioned succession?!” Yes. And actually it’s 8+ because there are a few others who pop up as well along the way.  There is, unfortunately, not room here to do the genius of Danny Gardner justice, I can only hope that the following will suffice.  He is brilliant.  He has personified and brought to life each character in a unique and specific way, no two are quite alike.  He changes his voice, his gait, his tonality and inflection, and he’s not just talking, oh no, he’s singing and dancing, gesticulating and tapping. There was not a large display of his tap dancing prowess in this show which was unfortunate, because he’s good (anyone lucky enough to have seen him as Don Lockwood in the Engeman’s production of Singin’ in the Rain will know just how good). His vocals are an absolute pleasure to hear, his characterizations are hysterical, and his comedic timing is spot-on. It is so impressive and beyond entertaining to watch him do these roles. Simply put, Danny Gardner started out as a triple threat and then left that in the dust.

Danny Gardner. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is many things.  It is clever and different, it is obvious and then surprising, it is strange, dirty, and macabre, and then hysterically funny, touching, and romantic. Director Trey Compton and choreographer Vincent Ortega have delivered a brilliantly executed production. It is fabulous fun, and I promise you won’t be bored.

 

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