During Broadway week, I managed to see the new musical comedy A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. With book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman and music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak, it's a delightful mix of English music hall and wicked humour set in Edwardian England.
For those of you familiar with the film Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), the story will be familiar. Impoverished Monty Navarro (Bryce Pinkham) is mourning the death of his mother when one of her friends, Miss Shingle (Jane Carr), arrives and informs him that he is a member of the aristocratic D’Ysquith family and is eighth in line to inherit the dukedom.
Monty writes to the current Earl of Highhurst, Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith (Jefferson Mays), informing him of his newly discovered family connection and is rebuffed. Thinking a clergyman might be more sympathetic to his cause, he sets out to visit one of the heirs, the Reverend Lord Ezekial D’Ysquith (also Jefferson Mays). The Reverend, who refuses to help Monty, insists on showing him the view from the top of his church tower. When he loses his balance, Monty sees his chance to move up the line and lets him fall to his death. Soon the other D'Ysquith heirs begin to mysteriously drop like flies in a myriad of ways: falling through the ice while skating, being attacked by a swarm of bees, beheading by barbells.
In between committing murder Monty juggles two women, the seductive social climber Sibella Hallward (Lisa O'Hare) and his sweet distant cousin Phoebe D’Ysquith (Lauren Worsham), all while managing to sing and dance.
From the opening scene where Monty is ensconced in a jail cell, penning his memoir, to the finale, the story gallops along with a bevy of rousing songs, dance numbers, and clever special effects (one of the deaths pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo). Who knew the tale of a serial killer could be so entertaining?
One of the musical's selling points is its strong cast including the charming Bryce Pinkham, the hilarious Jane Carr, and Lisa O'Hare and Lauren Worsham, who are both fine singers. But the star of the show is Jefferson Mays who plays not one but all eight of Monty's victims, male and female. Mays' energy is astounding and makes one wonder what happens after he takes his final bow (I imagine him collapsing the moment he steps off the stage). He dies eight times every night, a record for Broadway, while making each character uniquely different.
Add a colourful set by Alexander Dodge and perfect period costumes by Linda Cho, and you have one of the most enjoyable Broadway arrivals this season.
A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder plays at the Walter Kerr Theatre. For more information, visit here.