Seeing “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” for the SECOND time, I couldn’t believe how much I loved it ~ more! I saw it when it first opened this past winter, and I adored how tuneful, how witty and how inventive it was and how ingeniously staged and performed it was by all hands on deck. I thought it was too rich, too lushly melodic, too good, too period perfect(It’s 1908), or too perfect. Period. For Broadway in this loud, flat day & age, but guess what?
It survived the long, horrid winter we’ve had and has come up this Spring blooming with Award nominations! So the SECOND time I saw it, “A Gentleman’s …” was even more delightful, if that’s actually possible, because you just relax and luxuriate in its’ glorious excesses of gorgeousness. malevolence,melody & wit!
WIT! How many musicals on Broadway have this, my most prized delectation! And how I miss it!
Not since Lerner & Lowe have we heard this wealth of sharp lyrics, luxuriant melodies and the rebirth of patter songs. I kept thinking of Rex Harrison’s immortal Henry Higgins all through this juggernaut of tongue-twisting fun. It harks back to the best of George Bernard Shaw, too, in its spot-on depiction of life high and low in Edwardian England. And it’s also thoroughly British, which I love, Anglo-phile that I am.
The opening tableau of a grim, gleeful, rain-soaked chorus all in black sets the tone with “A Warning to the Audience” that “you’d best depart!” at once, if they don’t like murder and mayhem. They re-unite merrily in Act Two’s Opening asking “Why Are All the D’Ysquiths Dying?”
You see, our redoubtable hero, Monty Navarro (the stupendous Bryce Pinkham) is impoverished and grief-stricken at the outset. He is reeling, coming from his beloved mother’s funeral. A strange old woman named Miss Shingle,(pictured above^) whom he doesn’t know from Adam, turns up to comfort him in his Dickensian, down-at-heels bed-sit in a grimy, smoke-stack spewing part of London (kudos to scenic designer Alexander Dodge) to tell him that “You’re a D’Ysquith!” And consequently the heir to a vast fortune, but unfortunately there are eight other D’Ysquiths in the way to his ascendancy to the Earldom of Chislehurst.
The marvelous Jane Carr (the apple of Maggie Smith’s eye in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”) turns up here as Miss Shingle, evincing a perfect Cockney accent, and a twinkle in her mischievous eye, to set the plot a-rolling and the pots a-boiling.
She quickly transfers that deadly twinkle to the bereft down-and-outer Monty’s big baby blues and hence a dastardly, dashing, handsome devil of a villain is born.
I.E. The plot is to bump off the eight people standing in his determined way. I don’t think I’ve ever loved a social-climber quite so much!
Monty sings: I am standing here with poison in my pocket,
One eye on the target, one eye on the clock. It
Better happen soon before I lose my nerve and run.
If I had a knife I could have grabbed him,
Then discreetly knocked him on
The head and stabbed him,
Not to mention what I would have done,
If I had had a gun.
And one after the other, in one hilarious set piece after the next, each one a knock-out, literally. (Kudos again to the inventive Mr. Dodge. His back-projections are as hilariously apt as his front-projections) The D’Ysquiths all begin to fall like nine (or rather eight) pins in an East End bowling alley. That they all are played by the incredible Jefferson Mays is simply beyond astounding. And each one of the doomed D’Ysquiths are meticulously differentiated from the other. He’s a one-man cast of thousands ~ of dead people.
In case all of this is sounding a tick familiar, “A Gentleman’s Guide…” is based on the book “Kind Hearts and Coronets” that the famous movie starring Alec Guinness is also based upon. And Jefferson Mays fills the bill quite, quite well.
Mr. Jefferson Mays is, of course, the esteemed Tony recipient of “I Am My Own Wife,” where once again he showed his chameleon versatility playing multiple roles in a one-man show. Though sweating and spitting up a storm in Act One, he nevertheless engages the audience’s affection and admiration as the bodies pile one upon the other in seemingly endless succession, all them bodies his. And who knew he could sing and dance like that?
D’Ysquithian highlights abound as we await the next deliciously daffy dispatch of one dastardly aristocrat after the other. Without spoiling just how hilariously they all go to meet their maker, there’s one patriotic, and also homo-erotic, number called “It’s Better With a Man” that both Mr. Pinkham and the inevitable Mr. Mays seem to take particular purple relish in.
Bryce Pinkham, Broadway’s newest, hottest leading man, has a lilting tenor, arched eye-brows and chiseled cheekbones. Plus he has the difficult job of making all the many murders of Mr. Mays, be sympathetic, and also empathetic, as well as sexy, as he slashes, and stabs and poisons his way to the top. You root for him to be the sociopath that he becomes. Pinkham has been seen before buried in the chorus of “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” and also playing the third lover in the musical “Love’s Labour’s Lost”in the park this past summer. You’ll remember him as the hot guy in silver lame hot pants, and on roller-skates. An agile triple-threat, he.
Keeping the sex count as high as the body count are the beauties battling for his affections, the pink-obsessed blonde Sibella (Lisa O’ Hare) and the brunette soubrette Phoebe(Lauren Worsham). The brilliant director of all this madness is the meticulous Darko Tresnjak and the bloody good music & lyrics are by the two and only Steven Lutvak and Robert L.Freedman(who also penned the tart, smart book). All of these are the gentleman, who will guide you through love and murder, and all are astonishingly making their auspicious Broadway debuts!
And they’ve all been nominated for Tonys! And Drama Desks! And the Outer Critics Circle Awards, too! Ten or eleven! Almost as high as the count of murders! And surely on the way to topping and copping all the awards for “Best Musical of the Year”! Sometimes quality is rewarded on Broadway! T</em>hank the Theater Gods! YAY!