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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.


Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from Musicals

3 Jun

I’m sure this has been done before, probably multiple times, but here goes.

My daughter and I were driving home from seeing Snow White and the Huntsman (my review here), and we were talking about the Les Mis trailer, which we saw for the first time on the big screen tonight (though we’d already watched it multiple times via YouTube).  She said she’d heard the woman behind us ask “what the heck is that?” when the trailer started, and she (Kelsey) couldn’t believe the question.  I had to remind her that not every family are musical geeks like us, and that those people should not be looked down upon, simply pitied.

“Why is that, daddy?” asked my wide-eyed princess, pretending to know she wasn’t feeding me a straight line.

“Because, my dear,” I told her, “they will never know that…”

  • Life is random and unfair.  Life is Pandemonium.
  • There’s a place for us.  Somewhere, a place for us.
  • The tigers come at night, with their voices soft as thunder.
  • There’s trouble right here in River City.
  • The hills are alive with the sound of music.
  • Everybody ought to have a maid.
  • You can have fun with a son, but you’ve gotta be a father to a girl.
  • Everything’s up to date in Kansas City.
  • Pretty women are a wonder.
  • The way to handle a woman is to love her.
  • You’re never fully dressed without a smile.
  • In olden days, a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking.
  • It’s not so much do what you like as it is that you like what you do.
  • June is busting out all over.
  • It ain’t necessarily so.
  • You can be as loud as the hell you want when you’re making love.
  • Time is an ocean of endless tears.
  • Life’s a jolly holiday with Mary.
  • With one look they’ll know all they need to know.
  • Children will listen.
  • If you’ve got it, flaunt it.
  • We all live such elaborate lives.
  • Each day got through means one or two less mistakes remain to be made.
  • Don’t feed the plants.
  • Everybody’s got the right to be happy.
  • A song of love is a sad song.
  • I can do anything better than you.
  • Love changes everything.
  • A person could develop a cold.
  • You’re always sorry.  You’re always grateful.
  • It’s all for the best.
  • Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.

And, of course,

  • The sun will come out tomorrow.

And then, my sweet girl said, “But dad.  What if they ask ‘What’s a Jellicle Cat?’?”

I shook my head sadly.  “Some people, there’s just no helping.”


Please add your own lessons in the comments.  We need to help the less fortunate, musical illiterate.

Sunday at the Rep with George

22 Jan

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’ first production for 2012 is Stephen Sondheim’s meditation on creativity, Sunday in the Park With George. The winner of the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Sunday takes its inspiration — and the characters for its first act — from the seminal pointillist painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat.

Act One tells of the tumultuous relationship between Georges and his mistress, Dot, a model who struggles with Georges’ inability to connect with anyone or anything other than the canvas he is working on. In fact, all of the people who Georges encounters are, wittingly or unwittingly, models for characters in the painting, as Georges lives entirely through his work.

Act Two follows Georges’ grandson, George, as he engages in the opposite struggle; George, an inventor-cum-sculptor, has entered a creative rut, successfully schmoozing investors to pay for his art but unable to tap into anything new. A trip to La Grande Jatte to celebrate the anniversary of his grandfather’s work leads George to an unexpected encounter and brings the show full circle.

As Georges/George, Ron Bohmer displays a good singing voice and is convincingly likable as George, but maybe not quite brooding enough as Georges. A little more brusqueness might be more nice, but he’s still effective as he weighs his inability to balance his art and his life in “Finishing the Hat”. As Dot, Erin Davie is suitably headstrong and delightful as she dreams of being a Follies girl in “Color and Light” or struggles to concentrate through the sweat in the title song. Together, their duets on the first act’s “We Do Not Belong Together” and its second act echo “Move On” are heart rending and soaring.

The supporting cast is equally up to their tasks, including St. Louis theater mainstay Zoe Vonder Haar as Georges’ Mother and Chris Hietikko as Jules, a rival painter to Georges. The end of Act One is one of the most glorious moments in modern theater, and this version was as effective as any I’ve seen.

The book by James Lapine is solid in the first act, but slighter in the second. The music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim bridge the atonality of Sweeney Todd and the more accessible melodies of Into the Woods, with the lyrical intricacies that have been hallmarks of Sondheim’s work. Though the orchestra occasionally overpowered the actors’ singing, on the whole a nice balance is achieved.

Sunday in the Park with George is one of my favorite musicals. I’ve seen it performed a few hundred feet from where the original painting now hangs (in the Art Institute of Chicago), and a framed print sits on my dresser, inspired more by a love of the musical than a love of the painting (though I do appreciate the painting as well). I am comfortable saying that, while the Rep production does not supplant the original Broadway version in my heart, it is a worthy companion.


(Note: While I strongly endorse live theater at every turn, if you can’t make it to the Rep, the original Broadway version is available for purchase or digital rental or purchase at

Theater (or is it Movies) – Les Miserables Casting Rumors

25 Aug

Here’s a link to casting rumors for Tom Hooper’s upcoming adaptation of Les Miserables (the musical). Les Mis Casting Rumors

I’m good with all of the adult rumors, and could live with Emma Watson and (I guess) Miranda Cosgrove. Definitely Rebecca Hall over Amy Adams, probably one of the only times I’d ever choose someone over my beloved Ms Adams.

by Charles

Theater: The Secret Garden

18 Aug

For the second show of its 25th anniversary season, Stages St. Louis is staging The Secret Garden, the 1991 Broadway musical based on the classic 1911 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The play tells the story of Mary Lennox, a young British girl who is orphaned by a cholera epidemic in India. She is sent to live on the Yorkshire moors with her uncle Archibald Craven, a reclusive hunchback who is haunted by the ghost of his dead wife Lily, the sister to Mary’s dead mother Rose. Mary brings ghosts of her own from India, and the Misselthwaite manor house is soon teeming with inhabitants, both living and dead. The day-to-day operation of Misselthwaite is left to Archibald’s brother, Neville, a doctor who has given up his practice to manage his brother’s affairs, and who urges Archie to leave the house to Neville and grounds and travel the world in search of the solace that eludes him at home.

The Secret Garden original cast recording is one of my favorites, and the Stages cast does not disappoint. Peter Lockyer and Anthony Holds as Archibald and Neville Craven respectively, have marvelous voices which blend well. Lockyer looks perhaps a bit too young for the part, but his pain, both physical and emotional was always in evidence, and his youth may inform the role a bit, allowing him to resonate as a man who should have much to look forward to but who chooses, instead, to live in the past. Holds is rigid, reserved, and formal, a man burdened too much by the responsibilities, ambitions, and secrets he bears. Their duet “Lily’s Eyes” is heart-wrenching, as each professes his undying love for Archibald’s departed wife.

As Martha, a chambermaid who befriends Mary, Julie Cardia affects a near-impenetrable accent, but shines in her two songs, the comic “Fine White Horse” and the inspirational “Hold On”. As Dickon, Martha’s nature-communing brother, Joseph Medeiros sports a fine, clear voice and lithe, fluid movements, despite his right arm being in a cast.

The two standouts in the cast, however, are its female leads, St. Louisan Alexis Kinney, starring as Mary Lennox, and Kelly McCormick, as Lily. McCormick has a gorgeous, operatic singing voice, and conveys worlds of emotion with looks and glances; her character has very little dialogue outside of the songs she sings, but conveys a wide gamut of emotions nonetheless. Lily’s duets with Archibald are particularly moving, and it isn’t a stretch to see why he loved her so.

I have to plead a lack of impartiality when it comes to Ms Kinney, who I’m pleased to have followed for a number of years; she attended high school with one of my sons. As Mary, she is alternately spoiled, obstinate, and joyful, and Kinney runs the gamut of emotion seamlessly. Although she’s the lead, she doesn’t have as many good songs as the other cast members do, but duets nicely with Medeiros on “Wick” and “Show Me the Key”, and certainly holds her own on “The Girl I Mean to Be”.

Unfortunately, the script is not her friend; Mary’s emotional arc is there, but with more attention paid to the adults in this version than the children, her emotions seem almost random at times.

My one regret concerning the Stages St. Louis production of The Secret Garden is that I was not able to review it sooner; perhaps then more of you might have had the opportunity to see it. As it is, performances remain this weekend, August 19-21.

My rating: