BWW Previews: A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER at Theatre Baton Rouge
It's not every day that a theatre commits mass murder and gets away with it. Theatre Baton Rouge presents a murder-filled musical comedy in their staged production of A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER running November 1 through November 17.
Directed by Jenny Ballard, GENTLEMEN'S GUIDE tells the story of Monty Navarro. After his mother's death, Navarro, who grew up in poverty, finds out that his mother was a member of the wealthy D'Ysquith family, but was disinherited after marrying someone considered lowborn. Upon discovering this revelation, it would mean that Navarro is eighth in line for the Earldom of the D'Ysquith family.
"He decides instead of waiting for nature to take its course, he's going to off them one-by-one so that he can claim the earldom," Ballard said. "Monty explains away his murderous tendencies by saying well, they mistreated my mother, and he uses that as his reason for validating his need to kill them off."
Can he knock off his unsuspecting relatives without being caught and become the next Earl of Highhurst? And of course, things become tricky when love gets in the mix and what one man will do for it.
Fans of previous TBR productions such as Spamalot and Hound of Baskerville will enjoy this comedic farce that is akin to Agatha Christie meets Monty Python with very British-centric humor set within a criminal intent framework. The show won four Tony Awards in 2014, including best musical. That's right, this is one of the best musicals of our time and can rival the likes of Gilbert and Sullivan.
"Some of the notes [Brandy Cramer] hits I've never heard before," Ballard said, noting Cramer's operatic talent. "I think when you put a show like this out that is so new that has music of this caliber and humor of this caliber, it's going to bring people who haven't necessarily worked with us before to the theatre."
One actor, Albert Nolan, plays the entire doomed D'Ysquith family, inhabiting the nine roles he plays. Each role is very specific, different, and identifiable thanks to Nolan's talent as an actor where he completely changes his voice and physicality for each of the characters he plays. According to Ballard, each character has an entirely different voice, laugh, gait, way of standing, and sitting.
"Even before he was in his costumes, it was so clear who he was and when, which is such a challenge," Ballard said. "It's just a great show, and it's such a wonderful challenge and joy for Albert or whoever is playing that role. And it's been such a fun time for us watching find his way into each of them. This is a new level for him."
Other cast members include Jonathan Thomas (Monty Navarro), Marion Bienvenu (Sibella Hallward), Brandy Cramer (Phoebe D'Ysquith), Dana Todd Lux (Miss Shingle), Tara Nixon (Woman #1), Kristy Coast (Woman #2), Eva Jarecke (Woman #3), Andrew Vessel (Man #1), Brian Sanford (Man #2), and Jason Breaux (Man #3). Each of the ensemble members will perform several characters and have multiple quick costume changes throughout the show. And the cast will bring on the slapstick comedy but without bordering on being cheesy.
"We worked really hard on all of these characters really taking themselves seriously with whatever they're doing and just telling the story and letting the situations and the script itself provide the comedy," Ballard said. "If you honor the script and don't put cheese on top of it, you will be successful."
While Nolan's acting talent helps to create a sense of sympathy for the family, the deaths come off as comedic rather than tragic. Some of the outlandish ways the family is taken out include falling through ice, stung to death by bees, and decapitated by a dumbbell. You can't help but want to laugh.
"Albert is so wonderful and makes all of the characters so very likable that you do end up sympathizing to a certain extent," Ballard said. "But each of the murders is done in such a ridiculous, comic way."
And how many death totals are we looking at?
"We have eight die per performance, and if we're looking at four to five performances, we're looking at 36-40 deaths per week," Ballard said.
While that is a lot of murder, the show is suitable for a PG audience. Performances for GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE are at 7:30 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $31 general admission, and $20 for students. Tickets can be purchased at (225)-924-6496 or theatrebr.org.