BWW Review: A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER Thrills - and Kills - at Tennessee Performing Arts Center
A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER has been delighting audiences everywhere since its award-winning debut in 2012. Nashville got to experience that joy when it made its debut at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center's Andrew Jackson Hall opening night on Tues., Jan. 24.
The show is nothing short of a spectacle, providing equal parts comedy with dark wit and standout performances to match. Kevin Massey astounds as our clever, yet eclectic star Monty Navarro, who plots to murder the seven D'Ysquith's ahead of him as heir to the family fortune. Massey voice shines all throughout the production, but especially when he hits the high-ranging notes with his pure vocals. His performance in A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE proves that Massey manages to accomplish what most stars dream to do, which is to be able to act as well as they sing, both of which he does flawlessly.
Kristen Beth Williams is a perfect Sibella, exhibiting all the drama and flourish that comes with such a debutante role. Williams naturally brings the character to life through her dramatic actions and beautiful voice, acting as a standout performance in the show. Sibella arguably has the best wardrobe in the whole production, from her awe-inspiring pink ensembles to her striking red and black gown, she makes a statement with each vibrant costume change. And Williams voice is just as noteworthy, showcasing her impressive operative vocal abilities throughout the show, particularly on "I Don't Know What I'd Do" and "Poor Monty." Massey is right there with her, adding his own uniqueness to the role of Monty through expressive gestures and vivacious facial expressions, effectively showcasing just how his character is feeling at all times.
Kristen Hahn plays a charming Phoebe D'Ysquith, with one of the standout numbers of the show coming in the form of "I've Decided to Marry You" that finds out dear Monty hilariously bouncing from door to door between his two lovers, cousin Phoebe and the gold-digging Sibella, as they both try to decipher what's going on behind closed doors on either side, a number that elicited the largest applause of the night from the crowd. Williams and Hahn also shine together on their sparing duet, "That Horrible Woman," with their vocal capabilities complementing one another gracefully.
One of the many components that A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER has garnered a reputation for is humor, which is weaved naturally throughout the production. Like when Monty gets a gleam in his eye when poor Henry unwittingly announces that it would take 100 bee stings in order for him to die, much to the excitement of our main character. Or when the antique paintings on the wall come to life with song on the silly and brilliantly politically-incorrect "I Don't Understand the Poor," a production number made even better by John Rapson's humorously snooty attitude.
Just one of the many compelling elements to A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE is that of its use of technology to help narrate the story and interesting use of visual effects to help bring the story to life, such as when Monty lets poor Reverend D'Ysquith (John Rapson) fall to his death as a background scene of the cathedral steps move behind him, cleverly projecting the image of an actual fall, complete with the image of fake blood. The show also masterfully utilizes action going on in the background just as much as in the forefront, not unlike comedy shows such as THE OFFICE. Just two prime examples of this come when Asquith D'Ysquith and his girlfriend are seen ice skating and goofing off while Monty plots his murder in song with "Poison In My Pocket," or when Henry D'Ysquith is being mauled by a swarm of bees as sweet Phoebe sings her lament. It adds a unique dynamic to a Broadway show I have yet to see accomplished.
And the striking visuals of the set are not lost in the show's comedic action, with the eye-catching red drapery that helps open and close scenes and lovely garden setup complete with beautiful floral designs. The cast works off each other well, with each actor becoming enveloped in their role and taking the audience along for the wild ride. But the title of MVP has to go to Raspson who took on multiple of the night's roles, all of which he accomplished flawlessly, from the fabulous Lady D'Ysquith, with her flashy costumes and flamboyant personality that entertained the crowd, to the pompous yet comical Lord D'Ysquith. He clearly knows how to master a wide range of characters, a talent nothing short of impressive.
With its incredible writing, fabulous costumes and phenomenal ensemble, not to mention Brian Strumwasser's amazing makeup skills, it's clear to see why A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER was awarded the coveted Best Musical accolade at the 2014 Tony Awards and continues to share its charisma and whimsy across the country. This celebrated production has learned to master the art of both love and murder - in the most gentlemanly of ways, of course.