Review: A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER at Desert Theatreworks

DTW Has a Hit With Musical Tale of Murder and Lust

By: Oct. 20, 2022
Review: A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER at Desert Theatreworks

How can eight murders onstage bring an audience to laughter that almost raises the roof? I suggest you get to Desert Theatreworks' production of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder to find out for yourself! Great music, acting, directing and sets - this show has it all.

The show is set in a Victorian music hall. A young man named Monty Novarro (the outstanding John Corr) is informed by his family's nanny (Suzie Wourms) that because of his dead mother's lineage, he is in fact an heir to the D'Ysquith family fortune. The only problem is that there are eight other D'Ysquiths in line ahead of him. What's a fellow to do other than get rid of those eight people?

Much of the humor in the play comes from the fact that all eight D'Ysquiths - young, old, silly, serious, male or female - are played by Michael Pacas, perhaps the Valley's most in-demand actor/director. Each character is a full-blown dimensional human, and the audience howls each time he appears as someone new.

Along the line we meet Sabella (Cydney Krone), the girl Monty loves. He adores her but isn't willing to commit himself so she marries another man. Then he falls for the widow of one of the men he has dispatched, Pheobe D'Ysquith (Emily Unnascch), and she decides that she shall marry him. This develops complications, many of which are battled musically.

Eventually the eighth D'Ysquith is murdered (not necessarily by Monty) and he is assured of the substantial family fortune - or is he? Nothing in this script is what we expect, and the audience squeals with delight at every surprising turn.

An ensemble of six actors: Jessica Schuler, Katrina Dixon, Jeremiah Garcia, Georgina Medina, Mark Demry and Michael Hamlin play a variety of supporting roles as well as skillfully performing the ensemble numbers. They were delightful, both individually and collectively.

It is no surprise that Artistic Director Lance Phillips has mined every possible laugh out of the script. He has consistently done that for years. What surprised me was that I have seen this show several times and the actor playing eight characters has always seemed to be the lead. In fact this years DTL "Best Actor in a Musical" was for a performance of this role. However, Phillips has correctly identified that this is Monty's story. All eight D'Ysquiths are in fact supporting characters, but it took this production for me to finally understand that. It helped that both Corr and Pacas are among the strongest performers in the Valley, but I think it is primarily Phillips' directing. And he has once again proved himself as a set designer. He seems to have rented many professional backdrops and even though the Indio Performing Arts Center doesn't have a fly system, he developed ways for them to appear both on the central mainstage as well as on raised platforms at each side of the stage which provide additional acting areas. My favorite detail was purple Victorian fabric in a beautiful bunting cornice across the top of the false proscenium. I'm sure a lot of money went into the sets, but they definitely show it.

Just a note about the mainstage of IPAC which was built during the Pandemic. At around 50' wide, it is the largest community stage in the Valley and the sound system is phenomenal. Every word can be clearly heard throughout the auditorium and the stage itself gives its own level of professionalism. Unfortunately, on opening night the lighting was a mess. Rookie operators on both the board and spotlight lit the wrong parts of the stage and spotlighted the wrong actors. The design also failed to light the actors when they stood on the outer edges of the stage, and when Monty sat at his stage left desk, the top half of his face was lit bright orange while the rest of it was white. However, the company has most of a week to work out those problems and I'm pretty sure they won't reappear.

Musical Director/Accompanist Douglas Wilson makes the music sound so natural that it's easy to lose sight of what a difficult score it actually is. The music by Steven Lutvak and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman and Lutvak is in an operetta motif appropriate for the Victorian setting. The melodies are crisp and precise, and often require operatic voices (Emily Unnasch excels in this category) and Wilson has coached his company well. He sits at a piano onstage where he plays accompaniment, and occasionally even enters the action with a line or two. His music light is so subtle that even in blackouts he doesn't intrude. Although the show doesn't feature any traditional chorus dance numbers with high kicks, Stacy Casaluci-Grenrock's choreography again just seems the natural thing for these folks to spontaneously do and is totally appropriate for the period.

Company Stage Manager Adriana Reyes leads a crew that includes Anthony Nannini, Michelle Mendoza (who also did the costumes), Mariah Pryor, Tess Phillips, Art Healy, Janiah Williams, and Lola Reed.

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, produced by Desert Theatreworks led by CEO Ron Phillips, continues at the Indio Performing Arts Center through October 30. Tickets and further information are available at Click Here. Next up is Neil Simon's classic comedy Barefoot in the Park, followed by the Christmas favorite White Christmas.


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From This Author - Stan Jenson

STAN JENSON has been acting for 58 years since his high school debut at the age of 14. In those ensuing years, he has appeared in several hundred productions across the United States and Australia inc... (read more about this author)


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