Based on the 1907 novel by Roy Horniman (also turned into a movie in 1949, Kind Hearts and Corrinets starring Alec Guinness), this frothy new musical uses an Edwardian English music hall as its setting, replete with a miniature proscenium stage with its own scalloped curtain.
The musical is about a pauper of a man, Monty Navarro – played with wide-eyed wonder and innocence by Bryce Pinkham - who discovers he's actually from much greater stock than his now-deceased mother led him to believe. He is actually eighth in line to become the Earl of Highhurst.
In an effort to remove all obstacles in his way, he begins to kill off all those in line ahead of him. At the same time he manages to lose the woman he loves when she falls for another man with better prospects.
An old friend of his mother's, Miss Shingle, played with proper English plosives by Jane Carr, tells him of his secret identity. She recounts how his mother was cast out of the family after marrying a Castilian. She too attempted to reconcile with the family, but all of her letters were returned unopened.
When Navarro discovers that he is a member of the D’YSquith family - a family of means and privilege - he too attempts to contact them in the hopes of finding employment. After being rejected he seeks out one of the more reconciling members of the family, one Rev. Lord Ezekiel D’Ysquith. Again, he is rejected. This is where the killing starts. Much of it resulting from seemingly innocent actions on the part of Navarro, well, at least in the beginning.
The chameleon-like Jefferson Mays plays the mole-looking Reverend as well as 8 other roles, most of them D’YSquith-family victims. Mays does equal justice to all the roles, yet none of the characters as written by Robert L. Freedman - with the exception of the Reverend, whose death also is the most fun of all of them – is that funny. There are certainly plenty of funny one liners and a few funny site gags, like D’Ysquith Jr. and his love secret love interest skating back and forth across a frozen pond.
It’s fun to watch Pinkham's exploration of Navarro's darker side. He also has a lovely singing voice. As Silbella, Navarro’s love interest that gets away, Lisa O’Hare sings the role exceptionally well and looks gorgeous in Linda Cho’s beautifully designed costumes. As a D’Ysquith cousin by marriage and secondary love interest to Navarro, Phoebe D’Ysquith, Lauren Worsham also looks every bit the lovely and has a delightful voice.
Unfortunately, Carr has one of the blandest numbers in the show, “You’re a D’Ysquith.” That’s not saying much as the show’s music, written by Steven Lutvak, is simple and only mildly engaging. Save for a couple of numbers, including "Without You," "Poison in My Pocket,” and “Better with a Man.” Most of the numbers are whitewash-thin and unmemorable.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder borrows from Charles Ludlum’s The Mystery of Irma Vep and Rupert Holmes’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The difference here is that the costume changes never seem to astonish the way they do in …Irma Vep. I’m sure that these costume changes are very tightly timed and he probably has several dressers on him during any single costume change but it doesn’t rise to the level of astonishment and hilarity it does in …Irma Vep.
A Gentleman’s Guide… is cleverly directed by Darko Tresnjak who utilizes the small inset music hall set designed by Alexander Dodge, and the vignettes of the Victorian music hall as a perfect theatrical device for the musical. The lighting by Philip S. Rosenberg works effectively to bring the musical and Dodge’s set to life.
After the airing of all the commercials lately calling this show hilarious, I wonder if the other critics and I were actually seeing the same show. To me, it never evolves into the hilarity portended by the commercials.