by Lynn on May 26, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman
Music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak
Directed by Darko Tresnjak
Choreographed by Peggy Hickey
Scenic design by Alexander Dodge
Costumes designed by Linda Cho
Lighting by Philip S. Rosenberg
Sound by Dan Moses Schreier
Projections by Aaron Rhyne

A crisp, smart beautifully rendered production of a show that is killingly funny.

The Story. The dashing and courtly Monty Navarro is out for revenge and advancement. He has just buried his dear, poor mother who suffered all manner of hardships to raise him. Monty has since learned from a mysterious friend that in fact his dear, poor mother was a member of the celebrated, rich and aristocratic D’Ysquith family. It seems that Monty’s mother married for love, a Castilian (Cathtilian?) of whom her father did not approve and so disowned her. Monty’s mother wrote many letter to her father, all returned. Monty’s father died and Monty’s poor, sweet mother carried on the best she could. Now Monty wants revenge and position. But it seems there is an obstacle to his goal. Actually eight obstacles in the name of various and sundry D’Ysquiths, all in the line of succession. So Monty plots and schemes to murder them. This is not a spoiler; we find out about all of this as Monty writes about it from his prison cell awaiting trial.

As for the love part, he’s in love with Sibella Hallward, a buxom lass with expensive tastes. To complicate matters further, he’s also in love with Phoebe D’Ysquith who is not in the line of succession so she can live and he can love her.

The Production. Director Darko Tresnjak has set this in a Victorian musical hall setting as would befit a Victorian melodrama. An ornate structure frames the vibrant red stage curtain. When it rises several ghoulish characters in black sunglasses, wearing severe black outfits stand around a black coffin and sing “A Warning to the Audience” about what they are about to see.

We then see the dashing and courtly Monty Navarro impeccably dressed in prison. He begins to write the truth of what happened to all those dastardly D’Ysquiths and how he got there in the first place. The show flits back and forth in time from prison for some narration and to the past where we see Monty execute his various murders and woo first Sibella and then Phoebe.

The acting style is purposefully broad, as befits a melodrama, but not outrageously so, except in the cases of the various D’Ysquiths—they are a showy, loud, ostentatious lot. Well of course, they are the aristocracy and so are entitled. The singing is hugely accomplished.

Director Darko Tresnjak does not let one second go unobserved. His sense of humour is acute and he knows how to stage a joke for full effect. He knows how to wring every laugh out of every situation without it seeming that he’s shoving the humour down the audience’s throat. The humour is organic and Tresnjak just spins it into gold with tweaks of body language, reactions and framing.

The cast is from top to bottom exemplary. As Monty, Kevin Massey is the most charming of murderers. He has a constant look of surprise at what is unfolding. Of course, being surprised does not give away that all those murders do not surprise him at all since he’s doing them. Massey has a gentlemanly demeanour, a gentle disposition, almost meek, except when plotting. He takes Sibella’s infidelity with grace and a wink. Massey conveys Monty’s dilemma of what woman to choose for his one true love, Sibella or Phoebe. All this and the man can sing too.

John Rapson does Herculean work as the many and various D’Ysquiths who will die in the most inventive ways imaginable. Rapson has a collection of moustaches, ticks, accents, attitudes and body sizes that keep the audience guessing what he will come up with next. This is an actor who espouses true gender equality—he plays both the men and women of the D’Ysquith family with equal aplomb. And he sings like a dream as well.

The self-absorbed, glamorous Sibella Hallward is played with glee and wonderful humour by Kristen Beth Williams. Phoebe, as played by Adrienne Eller, is as sweet and innocent as Sibella is coy and conniving. Both provide a nice balance of attitudes.

Robert L. Freedman’s book is lively, subtle, witty and bend-over funny (certainly with the Tresnjak touches). The music (Steven Lutvak) and the lyrics (Freedman and Lutvak) are some of the wittiest, cleverest lyrics and music to appear in a Broadway show for years. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder deserved every single award it won.

Comment. This is one of the best musicals in a long time. This production is top notch. It’s been a long time since I laughed as much. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is so well worth a trip to the Princess of Wales Theatre.

Presented by David Mirvish and too many other producers to mention.

Opened: May 25, 2016.
Closes: June 26, 2016.
Cast: 15; 7 men, 8 women
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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