A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder — GO!
Set in London in 1909, the plot concerns a penniless young man, Monty Navarro (Kevin Massey) who, following his mother’s death, learns that he’s related to the obscenely wealthy D’Ysquith family. Not only that, he’s the ninth-in-line heir to their enormous fortune.
At first Monty writes a letter to the family patriarch, requesting a modest position with the firm. Rejected, he broods over a dim and loveless future, as the stylish tempestuous love of his life, Sibella (Kristen Beth Williams), will only marry for money.
A passing inspiration germinates into a campaign to murder all the heirs that precede him. His initial rejection from the family firm is rescinded, and now, a rising stockbroker in public and a crafty murderer in private, he ascends the social ladder.
It’s an entertaining climb, with a solid plurality of the laughs engendered by the versatile John Rapson, who plays all the D’Ysquiths: a swishy beekeeper, a licentious cleric, and a relentless do-gooder, Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith, who eludes death in leper colonies and the swamps of Africa before drowning after Monty saws off a plank as she exits a boat.
The pivotal D’Ysquith, Lord Adalbert, is a ruthless harrumphing character who sings the lead in my favorite number, “I Don’t Understand the Poor,” — a song that makes you laugh even as it pitch-perfectly defines the arrogance of insular privilege. There are a couple of great scenes involving the two women in Monty’s life: the hot–to-trot Sibella and his more decorous amour, Phoebe (Adrienne Eller), who inconveniently drops by his studio while he and Sibella are engaged in an adulterous tryst.
And Kristen Mengelkoch is unforgettable as Lady Eugenia, Lord Adalbert’s wife; a dinner scene in which the couple tear each other apart is as scabrously comic and absurd as the best of Lewis Carroll.
The vocals are excellent, with Williams a standout. As to flaws, I found Freedman’s book decidedly less razor–sharp than his and Lutvak’s lyrics. And Massey’s ambitious assassin is rather tame; I’d have liked this homicidal mischief-maker to sport more jagged edges and a conniving manner.
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