Saturday, 17 August 2019 18:04

Review: 'Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder' is a brilliantly clever, beautiful experience

Written by  Marin Heinritz
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If you think there’s anything sexier and funnier than murder, you’ll think again after seeing the phenomenal musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at Mason Street Warehouse.

It’s a brilliant show (winning Tony Awards in 2014 for book, direction, costume design as well as best musical) brought to its fullest potential with the finest cast and design team. This production is positively inspired. Director Kurt Stamm has outdone himself with this one, and given his outstanding track record, that’s really saying something.

Written by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak and based on the 1949 British film “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” an adaptation of the 1907 novel, this subversive, Edwardian tale focuses on humble and demure Monty Navarro who has discovered upon his dear mother’s death that he is actually an heir to the D’Ysquith fortune, and ninth in line to become an earl. Knock off a mere eight stiff-upper lipped relatives who never knew him, and he’ll have it made. But of course, serial killing isn’t as easy as it seems, nor is keeping two high-maintenance mistresses happy amid thinning the family line.

It is a narrative ripe for ridiculousness and with a wonderfully clever score and lyrics, this operetta cum farce, though also a kooky killing spree, is utterly gentlemanly, not at all gruesome, and is a wickedly smart, gorgeous period piece that delightfully satirizes colonialism. It’s astounding in all the right ways.

The actors here who bring it to life are simply superb. Elliott Litherland is a handsome, earnest Monty who gracefully teeters between utterly innocent and downright sinister while always being adorable. His terrifically expressive face and inventive yet understated physical comedy is at least matched in brilliance by Harry Bouvy who, astonishingly, plays every single one of the D’Ysquith clan who are not long for this world. Bouvy makes each character so distinct in body and voice, and so uniquely funny in a variety of ways, it’s unbelievable to think a single actor is playing all of them.

The delightfully peculiar ingenues give equally marvelous performances. Gina Milo proves her chops yet again as a gifted and gorgeous comedienne as Sibella, and her soprano is first rate. Katie Fay Francis’s Phoebe is unlike anything you’ve ever seen or heard — a strange and beautiful songbird who’s ever so funny. She makes this character a wonder of a creation.

In addition to these four powerhouse performances, six ensemble members are limitless in their talents to create tourists, wedding guests, servants, law enforcement officials, maids, and on and on, with a particularly riotous stand-out performance from Ellie Frances as Lady Eugenia D’Ysquith.

And they all sound marvelous. Thanks to Brendan Hollins’ extraordinary music direction and orchestra, the score — part music hall, part operetta, and peppered with patter songs — is every bit as humorous and beautiful as it’s meant to be.

And with all the scenes and characters bounding on and off stage in various contexts, the design team are in overdrive to pull it all off without a hitch, and the individual and overall effects are glorious.

From the countless whistling and boinging sound cues designed by Jonathan Baker to the innumerable sumptuous period costumes designed by Darlene Veenstra on the original Broadway costumes by Linda Cho to Jennifer Kules’ lights that shift from fetching to ominous to everything in between to Jeremy Barnett’s staggering set that makes use of a false proscenium with velvet curtain, enormous changing set pieces, amazing projected images — the design plays every bit the successful storytelling role in fulfilling the promise of this remarkable show as well as milking its humor. And somehow stage manager Danny Kuenzel keeps it all rolling seamlessly.

Murder has never looked more gorgeous, sounded more tuneful, or made you laugh so hard and not feel one whit of guilt about it. “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is a most glorious closing show of the season for Mason Street Warehouse. Don’t miss it.

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Mason Street Warehouse
Aug. 16-Sep. 1

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