The Fox Theatre launches its latest season of Broadway goodness with the delightful murder-musical-comedy “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.”
Based on the 1907 novel “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal” by Roy Horniman, the tale was turned into a musical by Robert L. Freedman. The show opened on Broadway in 2013 and won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the following year.
The gentleman in question is Monty Navarro (Kevin Massey), a poor nobody living in a flat in London and grieving over his mother’s recent death. He’s visited by a mysterious old woman named Marietta Shingle (Mary VanArsdel), who brings unexpected news of his lineage.
It turns out mother was a member of the prestigious D’Ysquith family. She had been cast out and cut off from the family years ago when she chose to run off with a lowly musician. In fact, Monty is ninth in line to inherit the earldom of Highhurst. Miss Shingle suggests Monty contact the D’Ysquiths and try to mend fences.
When his letter is rebuffed, Monty meets with the clergyman of the family in the hopes he will be more helpful. He isn’t, and when the Reverend falls to his death from atop the church bell tower (a death Monty could have prevented), Mr. Navarro embarks on a scheme to murder the remaining seven D’Ysquiths who stand between him and the earldom.
Supporting him, but not assisting him with his plan, is Monty’s longtime lover Sibella Hallward (Kristen Beth Williams). Despite their feelings for each other, Sibella marries a man of higher status because she can’t wait around on Monty to become rich. They still get together regularly anyway. This relationship becomes more complicated once Monty meets and becomes attracted to his cousin, Phoebe D’Ysquith (Adrienne Eller). Fortunately, Phoebe is not in the line of succession.
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” if a fun, if somewhat macabre, frolic with a very British sensibility. The show relies heavily on wordplay and slapstick. The music works in service to the story and as such is the weakest link in the show. While songs such as “I Don’t Understand the Poor” and “Better With A Man” are clever and amusing, they’re not the type of tunes you’ll be humming on your way out the door. The songs serve their purpose but aren’t very memorable.
Everything else is first rate.The action occurs in a variety of locations and to deal with this challenge the production features a stage on the stage which lets the story quickly and seamlessly move from place to place. The set design and costumes are impressive. The actors and musicians deliver fine performances.
While you might believe from the synopsis that the talented Kevin Massey is the star of the show, the real standout is John Rapson — who plays not one, not two, but all eight of the doomed D’Ysquiths. Each member of the royal family has his-or-her own eccentricities, and Rapson is a joy to watch as he brings them all to life. Then death.
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” runs through Sept. 25. http://www.fabulousfox.com/