Not since the days of “Sweeney Todd” has there been such a celebration over murder in New York City. After opening in November 2013, the hit musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” has become one of the hottest tickets on Broadway in 2014. Despite the fact the this production is set against the backdrop of murder and death, it has a definite charm and wit, making it a must see show.
The comparisons to Sweeney Todd are inevitable. After all, Sweeney Todd ranks as the most successful play in history where the main character was an utterly devious serial killer who killed for the mere sport of it. But, that is really where the comparisons begin and end. Both productions are about serial killers. In “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” the serial killer, Monty Navarro, turns out to be nothing more than a misguided, lovable, greedy man, intent on securing his blood-right inheritance.
This show is a throwback to the old days with a modern touch. It’s a comedy and drama filled with dazzling music, lyrics that generate laughter, well-placed choreography, stylish costumes and a set that creates the perfect atmosphere of hysterical death. The cast is absolutely marvelous, which basically completes the checklist for success.
The story begins with Navarro, portrayed brilliantly by Bryce Pinkham, in mourning after his mother’s death. Without a dime to his name, his whole world is thrown for a loop when he discovers he is an heir to Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith, Earl of Highhurst. Unfortunately, he also discovers there is a bloodline of eight blue-blood relatives standing in his way of a fortune. With the sudden possibility of securing the hand of his sweetheart and socialite, Sibella Hallward (Lisa O’Hare), it becomes much too much to resist. He begins climbing his way through the branches of his newly discovered family tree, one tragic accident at a time.
For years, Actor Jefferson Mays has exhibited great talent and flexibility. In this show, he plays all eight relatives (targets) that stand in Navarro’s way to fame and fortune. Each character (male and female) is introduced in a series of musical vignettes that come at the audience at a hysterical pace, and each of these characters meets their demise in a series of accidents that leave the audience laughing so hard, they can’t wait for the next victim.
Director Darko Tresnjak, whose roots rest in Shakespearean theater, makes his Broadway debut in sterling fashion. His use of an extraordinary Victorian set (by Alexander Dodge), perfect lighting (by Philip S. Rosenberg), creative choreography (by Peggy Hickey) and operetta style music (directed by Paul Staroba) is spot on as he creates a high-society atmosphere with a touch of macabre. The costume design (by Linda Cho) brings a modern touch to a classical English dance hall wardrobe. Composers Robert L. Freedman (lyrics) and Steven Lutvak (lyrics and music) use brilliant wit and charm to make music that invokes laughter and helps move the story along in quick fashion.
At every turn, creative genius is on display. This production is an adaption of a 1907 novel by Roy Horniman entitled Israel Rank: the Autobiography of a Criminal. Writer/Composer Freedman, a Broadway newcomer, shows he is going to be a real force in years to come. He has already shown the ability to integrate comedy and music in such a manner that the audience is laughing their heads off while tapping their collective feet. But when all is said and done, A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder succeeds on the backs of the Actors, especially Mays. Mays’ ability to shift gears from scene to scene, through so many costumes, songs and dances, is something to behold and worthy of the Tony Award recognition he received.