BWW Review: A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER at Des Moines Playhouse: A Killer Evening of Theatre
Imagine finding out you have been living poor your whole life, only to find out you are part of the wealthiest family in your area. How far would you go to get your hands on part of that money? "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder," the first presentation of this season at Des Moines Playhouse presents this thought out to the audience. They do this by presenting the case of Monty Navarro. Is he guilty though? That is answered in the first few minutes of the show playing through September 29.
The show begins with Monty Navarro in jail awaiting his possible execution. Very quickly in the show, we learn that Monty's mother is a D'Ysquith but was disowned when she chose to marry for love and not money. When he finds out he is a D'Ysquith, Monty sets out to get a job with a company owned by the D'Ysquith family. When he is turned down, he sets out on a path of revenge to kill off the D'Ysquith's and claim his place as the heir to the fortune. Does he succeed? That you will have to go to the show to find out.
Part of the fun in this show are all the different ways the stage is used through the show. This is thanks to Nicholas Amundson's stunning sets. One of the staples of Nicholas' sets are the beautiful prosceniums he builds for the stage. This show is no different. Except with this show, he provides a false proscenium that separates the D'Ysquith family story from Monty the narrator through the show. This helps keep the show flowing as scene changes can happen quickly behind the proscenium. The set pieces that are brought on are each elaborate in their own way. My favorite was the set used during the scene with the song "Inside Out." There are pieces brought on were decorated with lavender colored flowers that transport the audience to the D'ysquith estate.
One of the things I always appreciate about Playhouse productions is the costumes designed by Angela Lampe. One of the things I love is how detailed the costumes are. One great example of this is Sibella's pink dress. From where I sat in the theatre, it appeared to be a pink dress, but the dress has beautifully detailed work that goes around the entire dress. This show also presented a unique issue. One of the cast members plays 8 characters, and the costumes had to be designed in a way that they could be taken off and put on quickly, many times less than a minute. Lampe finds a beautiful balance of when the costumes can be more elaborate than others, giving the audience a treat.
One of the fun parts of this show for me was seeing how the ensemble was used throughout the show. There are numerous characters throughout the show that pop in and out. The directing team did a great job of putting together a strong ensemble that is not only able to tackle the difficult music of the show but is also able to deliver the comedic moment each of their roles have. The talent of the cast doesn't stop with the ensemble; it continues with the supporting characters as well.
With the talent on stage in both leading and supporting roles, I could easily go on about every character in the show. So I've narrowed it down to a few people, who's performances were the poison I needed for an amazing night of theatre. The first is Gina Gedler's performance as Miss Shingle. She had the audience in the palm of her hand the moment she came on stage. One of the fun parts of her performance is that it reminded me of so many of London's famous female performers, yet it was never a copy or imitation of them. To see that level of performance from someone local was an absolute thrill.
Another fun character to watch was Sibella Howard played by Maggie Schmitt. Each of her songs showed off her beautifully melodic soprano voice. Singing wasn't the only fun part of her character. She brings out the fun and sultry side of the character, which works so well with the show. The way she brings the character to life lets the audience see why Monty keeps going back to visit with her.
The show is narrated by Zachary Dean Smith as Monty Navarro. The show serves as his memoir playing out on stage. I enjoyed getting to see him go back and forth between when he is serving as the narrator contemplating the events of the show, and then a character in the show as we see the events play out. The charisma he brings to the role catches your attention from the top of the show.
The hardest role of the night had to be the D'Ysquith Family played brilliantly by Brett Spahr. Throughout the show, he plays all 8 members of the family. While the costumes are different for each of his characters, he takes it to another level. Each of the family members seemed to have their own walk and own speech pattern. No matter how long the character is on stage he finds a way to make the character memorable.
From the sets to costumes to an amazing group of actors, "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" slays the audience, and will have you laughing all evening. It's a great send-off for Director/Artistic Director Emeritus John W Viers as well as opening the 101st season for Des Moines Playhouse. "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" continues on the Playhouse Mainstage through September 29. To buy tickets find out more about the show visit https://www.dmplayhouse.com/events/a-gentlemans-guide-to-love-and-murder
Review written by DC Felton
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