A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

22 Sep

Shortly after his mother’s funeral, Montague “Monty” Navarro is visited by one of her oldest friends, Miss Shingle, who informs him that his late mother was actually a member of the wealthy D’Ysquith family (pronounced “Deskwith”), disowned by her father when she fell in love with Monty’s father. In fact, she tells him, Monty is 9th in line to be the Earl of Highhurst.

When he reaches out to the D’Ysquiths for a job, he is summarily and cruelly rejected. His unrequited love/sometime lover Sibella rejects his proposal as well, due to his lack of prospects. Feeling doubly spurned, Monty vows revenge on the D’Ysquiths and determines what he now believes is his rightful title.

Since the 2014 Tony Award Best Musical winner A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder begins with Monty in prison composing his memoir (the Guide of the title), it’s apparent that something goes wrong. We don’t get to that point until late in Act Two. Getting there, we meet multiple members of the D’Ysquith family who stand between Monty and his earldom, as well as one who doesn’t, the beautiful Phoebe, a distant cousin who Monty becomes enamored of, much to the consternation of Sibella. The majority of the play involves these D’Ysquiths meeting their dooms, in creative and creatively staged ways. If this sounds at all familiar, it’s probably because the play is based on the same novel as the classic British movie Kind Hearts and Coronets, starring Obi Wan himself, Alec Guiness.

As Monty, Kevin Massey is easily up to the task of carrying the show. He has a fantastic singing voice, and can veer quickly from the earnest up-and-comer he presents to the D’Ysquiths, the schemer that he reveals only to the audience, and the somewhat louche rake he affects with Sibella.

Kristen Beth Williams presents Sibella as a self-absorbed social climber until she discovers that Monty might not always be there as her “back-up” plan, at which point she becomes into a woman scorned. As Phoebe, Kristen Hahn is lovely and intelligent, suddenly liberated as a result of her brother’s death. The marvelous “I’ve Decided to Marry You”, in which she declares her true feelings to (and for) Monty (while he tries to hide the fact that Sibella is in the next room) is easily the best number in the show, and brought the house down.

The real scene stealer in the cast, however, is John Rapson, who plays all of the D’Ysquiths who stand between Monty and the Highhurst title. Despite the danger of such a performance descending into “look what funny wigs and makeup I can wear”, Rapson embodies each D’Ysquith as a distinct character. Some of them certainly are dependent upon outlandish costumes or affectations, but a couple are more subtly delineated. It’s fun to anticipate what Rapson is going to do with each character, and he does not disappoint.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is playing at the Fox Theater in St. Louis through September 25. Tickets in all price ranges are still available.

On the Fat Guys scale, it’s a solid

8 Cheeseburgers

The following clip is from the 2014 Tony Awards, featuring the original cast performing “I’ve Decided to Marry You”, introduced by the actor who plays the D’Ysquith family (as a few of his characters), since he isn’t in the number.

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