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