A goofy, sweet comedy about a social-climbing serial killer is one of the best new Broadway musicals in years.
An original musical not based on a known property and written by Broadway first-timers, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder was a bit of an underdog when it beat the Carole King jukebox bio Beautiful and Disney’s stage adaptation of Aladdin for the 2014 Tony Award for best musical. But with its national tour kicking off in Chicago, this light, delightful comedy proves a worthy winner.
The goofy plot centers on one Monty Navarro, a penniless and prospectless young lad who improbably discovers he’s a distant relation of the illustrious D’Ysquith clan—making him ninth in line of succession to become the Earl of Highhurst. Rebuffed by the first family member he reaches out to, Monty resolves to dispatch the eight D’Ysquiths standing in his way, all of whom are played by the same actor.
That could make the show sound gimmicky, but director Darko Tresnjak’s production is remarkably balanced. John Rapson makes a meal of the D’Ysquith family, playing everything from a toothy, boozy vicar to a large-bosomed competitive philanthropist with a quality reminiscent of Zero Mostel.
As Monty, boyish, charming Kevin Massey makes a strong counter to Rapson’s manic energy. In the Act II set piece “I’ve Decided to Marry You,” a Gilbert & Sullivan-esque number in which Monty must keep his two love interests (played by the sparkling Kristen Beth Williams and sweet Adrienne Eller) from seeing the other in adjoining rooms, the trio earned the most sustained applause of opening night.
That song is a highlight of Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak’s rich, lovely score. But it’s not all so Noël Coward-ly; Tresnjak packs scenic designer Alexander Dodge’s Edwardian-embellished diorama box with witty visual gags for brows high and low alike. Gentlemen and ladies, here's your guide: Go.
Bank of America Theatre. Book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman. Music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak. Directed by Darko Tresnjak. With Kevin Massey, John Rapson. Running time: 2hrs 25mins; one intermission.