San Diego, CA---When the opening of the new musical, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” (based on the 1907 novel “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal” by Roy Horniman that was later a movie “Kind Heart and Coronets” starring Alec Guinness in 1949) warns you that the show you are about to see is a tale of revenge and retribution and that blood may spill and spines may chill, you may think this is an updated version of “Sweeney Todd”, but you would be dead wrong. (“A Warning to the Audience”)
In fact as deadly and bloody as is ‘Sweeney Todd’, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is just the opposite. “Guide” is as delicious as is a savory chocolate. But don’t be misled; this musical is not about our taste buds, it’s ‘murder by the numbers’ sans the blood and gore.
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love And Murder”, with book by Robert L. Freedman, music by Steven Lutvak and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak is killer fun and not to be missed especially since it has all the earmarks of a trip to Broadway.
The Old Globe in association with the Hartford Stage is mounting this fun frilled lark starring our own Jefferson Mays (UCSD Graduate and Tony Award-winner “I Am My Own Wife”) playing no less than nine of the infamous D’Ysquith’s. Globe’s former Summer Festival resident director Darko Tresnjak deftly directs with Peggy Hickey choreographing and Mike Ruckles as musical director/conductor and Jonathan Tunick’s orchestrations.
You might ask, “What’s a D’Ysquith?”(Pronounced DIE-skwith; nice play on words) Well... The D’Ysquith’s are a wealthy and influential English family who turn their collective noses down on anyone less than. In this particular branch of the D’Ysquith’s there are eight in line waiting to be Earl and that would be the Eighth Earl of Highhurst. (Jefferson Mays)
When Monty Navarro (Ken Barnett) learns that his beloved and now deceased mother was born a D’Ysquith but was disowned from the family fortune because of her marriage to Monty’s father, a Castilian, he sets a plan in motion to work himself right up there in line to the family castle (Highhurst) and his rightful fortune, er place, among them. (“You’re a D’Ysquith”. “You’re the son of the daughter of the grandson of the nephew of the 2nd Earl of Highhurst!”).
Growing up in poverty and watching his poor mother work her fingers to the bone by taking in laundry, Monty plans to break that streak by getting back at his long lost family for all their years of neglect. Elimination is his sport and a well thought out process to that end is the game for Monty as he begins his quest for the Earldom and the D’Ysquith fortune.
Spurning him on in all seriousness is the knowledge that his paramour, Sibella Hallward (stunning Lisa O’Hare) is more interested in marrying a man of means than a man she loves. And so begins the fun and carefully crafted practice of purging first one D’Ysquith and then another in a series of casual and rather innocent looking accidents.
Told in the beginning, in the first person from a prison cell, Monty is writing his ‘true memoirs’ (“A Gentleman’s Guide…To Murder”). He asks the prison barber whether or not the jury will find him guilty. The prison barber assures him that the ladies will definitely agree that he is innocent. It is the night before he is to be sentenced.
Then with a blast of thunder and lightning, the tale begins to unfold as Monty steps back to relive his tale.
With a well-oiled cast, directly from the Hartford Stage Production, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” plays out on Alexander Dodge’s set within a set; a second stage set back a la English music hall style. It is decorated with Aaron Rhyne’s projections to depict the location; the action and the time where there are at least eight different drop-dead happenings, and that’s just for starters, take place. This romp is so delectably funny that a ninth (if there was another D’Ysquith …or maybe there will be!) would probably not bore.
Freedman and Lutvak’s lyrics are so clever and witty that one can’t help secretly cheering Monty on and waiting to see how his ingenious plotting puts him right up there in line for number one Earl. Ken Barnett’s Monty is naturally smooth, stylish and personally engaging especially for one with a mind intent on murder and a conscience devoid of any malpractice. (“Poison In My Pocket”) He fits the bill perfectly.
His strong baritone voice fares well in any combination of musical genres that are included in the work. (“Better With a Man”) His comedic timing is perfect as when he is caught between his new love Phoebe D’Ysquith (Chilina Kennedy is lovely and appealing) and Sibella in his apartment and he tries to keep the two apart. (“I’ve Decided To Marry You”)
This love triangle is just one of the many laughable threads running through “Guide”. Both women have strong voices that carry well out into the audience from the recessed dance hall looking area. The contrast of the two is as finely developed, as are the differences between Monty and the D’Ysquith’s. (All of them)
Jefferson Mays’ characterizations of all the snobby, snooty and callous D’Ysquith’s in line ahead of Monty, both male and female, are as different as can be given that they are all upper class snobs and just don’t get it as was so typical of the manners and mores of the roles and attitudes between the classes. (“I Don’t Understand The Poor”)
If anyone is capable of pulling off the madcap changes and brilliant portrayals, Mays is it. He’s gleefully funny and appealing in a cunning way. (“Why Are All The D’Ysquith’s Dying?”) Mays, who played all the characters in “I Am My Own Wife” does a number as a fast change artist as one D’Ysquith after another comes and goes at such a sudden clip that one almost forgets who the last D’Ysquith standing was. His performance is nothing less that dazzling.
Linda Cho, who has dressed a number of actors in the Shakespeare Festival here over the years, designed the ideal period/ class costumes for this production. Philip S. Rosenberg’s lighting and Dan Moses Schreier’s sounds coming from off stage make complete this lively tongue in cheek musical.
The twelve musicians in the pit are the frosting on the cake. Lutvak’s musical score with tunes ranging from music hall to operetta to vaudville with touches of Sondheim to Lerner and Lowe keep the production moving and fun at all times.
From an audience point of view, one almost forgets that we are dealing in murder. With this particular cast (shout out’s to Heather Ayers as Lady Eugenia, and Miss Evangeline Barley and Rachel Izen as Miss Shingle) and all it has going for it, this brand new musical should be on the must see list. You won’t want to miss it.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through April 14th
Organization: Old Globe Theatre
Production Type: Musical Comedy
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Ticket Prices: from $39.00-$114.00
Venue: Shiley Stage