BWW Review: A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER at Raleigh Little Theatre
Raleigh Little Theatre's A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER is the first local production of this musical which won the Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical in 2014. The hilarious romp has a score that's reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan's work, complete with patter songs and romantic ballads. A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder is Artistic Director Patrick Torres's fourteenth show he has directed at Raleigh Little Theatre and this month marks his five year anniversary at the company.
The musical is based on Roy Horniman's novel "Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal." It has a classical score by Steven Lutvak and a witty book by Robert L. Freedman. It's far from an easy show to produce with 111 costume changes and many different sets. The classical vocal techniques required for the music, particularly for the female roles, also make it a challenging venture.
Set in Edwardian London, the show finds Monty Navarro shortly after the death of his beloved mother. He is told by an old friend of his mother that she was actually a member of the wealthy and noble D'Ysquith family but was disinherited for marrying his father. The older woman suggests that there are only eight members of the family standing between him and being the Earl of Highhurst. After his initial attempts to connect with his family are rebuffed, Monty decides to take matters into his own hands and remove some of the obstacles in between him and wealth. Meanwhile, he is torn between the lovely and noble Phoebe D'Ysquith and his lover, the enchanting and passionate Sibella.
Tyler Graeper lends a boyish charm and wonderful voice to the role of Monty. The flamboyancy with which he plays the role is perfect for the farcical nature of the musical. Lauren Knott is fantastic as Sibella, her great voice and comedic timing making her Act I solo "I Don't Know What I'd Do" one of the highlights of the show. Lauren Bamford has a beautiful classical voice as Phoebe. The songs that both women sing on like "I've Decided to Marry You" and "That Horrible Woman" rise above the rest of the score.
However, it's Brian Westbrook who steals the show, playing all the members of the D'Ysquith family. It is his role that makes the comedy of the show truly apparent from playing the ridiculous priest to the bombastic Lady Hyacinth. His pompous "I Don't Understand the Poor" as Lord Adalbert is one of the best numbers of the show as is his hilarious "Better with a Man" as Phoebe's brother, Henry. It is worth seeing the show just for Westbrook's hilarious multi-layered performance alone.
Much of the show mimicks the original Broadway production including parts of the sets like the door frames for the "I've Decided to Marry You" scene, which I remember well from the 2014 Tony Awards. The set is a bit corny, but it works for the show. The Edwardian costumes are lovely, particularly Sibella's pink dresses, and the large number of them is impressive.
There were a few opening night mishaps, including a broken stool, but nothing more than can be expected for a show's first performance. The light comedy of the musical and the somewhat old-fashioned score won't be everyone's cup of tea, particularly those used to more contemporary musical theatre. However, for those who enjoy farce like Monty Python and more traditional musical theatre, it's sure to be a hit.
A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder is a hilarious and fun frolic despite its grisly premise. The lack of gore means it is still a great family show that all generations can enjoy together. It runs from August 16 to September 1 at Raleigh Little Theatre's Cantey V. Sutton Theatre.
Photo Credit: Elly McClanahan