BWW Review: A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER at Florida Studio Theatre
Based on the 1907 novel, Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal by Roy Horniman, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder is a musical comedy, with book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman and music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak. The show opened on Broadway in 2013 and ran for three years, winning four Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It is a fast-paced fun romp through love and murder and will have you in stitches.
You know you are in for quite and evening at the theatre when a group of mourners dressed in upscale black attire take the stage and instruct, "those of you of weaker constitution", to leave the theatre now, as the show may prove to be a bit...disturbing. All in good fun of course. Stay in your seats!
A young clerk of meager means, Montague "Monty" Navarro (Jimmy Nicholas) comes to find out he may very well be the distant heir to the D'Ysquith family fortune, (nineth in line perhaps, but still an heir). Apparently Monty's mum Isobel D'Ysquith ran off with a Spanish musician and was disinherited by her family. With his parents both deceased, and wanting to charm his love interest, Miss Sibella Hallward (Sarah Ellis), Monty decides to write to Lord Asquith D'Ysquith, Sr., overseer of the D'Ysquith family banking house. Monty asks if there is the possibility of a job opening, considering his consanguinity to the house of D'Ysquith. Unfortunately Lord Asquith's son, Asquith D'Ysquith, Jr., replies disavowing any knowledge of Monty's mother and tells him not to contact the D'Ysquiths again.
With his love for Sibella ever growing and a wealthy suitor at her beckon call, Monty tries a new approach that will hopefully lead to wealth and win Sibell's heart. He waits for "Visitor's Day" to join the public on a tour of the D'Ysquiths' ancestral home, Highhurst Castle. There he meets with another roadblock, the current Earl of Highhurst, Lord Adalbert D'Ysquith who shoos him off with a funny yet apropos song, "I Don't Understand the Poor". This starts a series of encounters with "family" members who oddly die off, one at a time; some of their own accord and some with a little bit of help (or negligence) on Monty's part. Poor Reverend Lord Ezekial D'Ysquith - one good gust of wind off the bell tower and BOOM! Face to face with the Lord he was. Poor Asquith D'Ysquith, Jr, drowned in a frozen lake ice-skating when the ice "gave way". Where's Elsa when you nedd her? Poor Major Lord Bartholomew D'Ysquith, decapitated at the gym while lifting weights. Guess who his spotter was? Poor actress Lady Salome D'Ysquith Pumphrey. What are the odds that gun she used for her stage suicide in the play would contain real bullets? What an exit! And poor Lady Hyacinth D'Ysquith, devoted to philanthropic causes and sent in harms way to far off regions, encouraged by Monty. And how about gay Henry D'Ysquith, (and we do mean gay), married but whose preferences lean in the other direction. Their duet "Better With a Man" is full of double entendres and tongue in cheek hilarity. An avid beekeeper, although allergic to bee stings, how can it be all those bees attacked poor Henry and stung him to death. Oh Henry, to bee or not to bee.
Does Monty feel any obligation or gratitude towards Lord Asquith D'Ysquith, Sr., who gave him a job as a stockbroker with a handsome salary? And how is Monty keeping his soon to be wife Phoebe (Alexandra Zorn) and his now mistress Sibella going at the same time? Does he kill off the last heir? Does he get caught for any of the extinction of the family D'Ysquith? There is a surprise ending.
You must see Monty in action. Jimmy Nicholas is charming and handsome as Monty. He makes you like his character, even if he is up to no good. He possesses smooth vocals and abundant energy. Speaking of energy, meet Richard Henry. Mr. Henry plays all eight members of the D'Ysquith family, including the women, which makes for some hilarious entrances and over the top costume changes. Easily moving from a no-nonsense businessman to a gay country squire and on to a few female roles, Mr. Henry is a show unto himself. Ms. Ellis as Sibella is cool, calculating and seductive. Ms. Zorn as the sweet Phoebe carries one powerful voice in that small body.
Director Jason Cannon managed some perfect timing keeping the pace going and getting the most character traits out of his cast. Scenic designers Isabel & Moriah Curley-Clay utilized every inch of the stage with particularly realistic backdrops denoting various indoor and outdoor scenes. You have to see how Reverend Lord Ezekial D'Ysquith fell to his death. Ingenious. (Sorry Reverend) Costume coordinator Adrienne Webber had a field day with the costumes for Richard Henry alone. I especially loved the mourners in black - très chic!
As with any great play it is the combined talent of the entire cast and crew and musicians who make for a successful production. There is a lot of talent in front and behind the scenes that make this show a must see.
A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder runs through January 6, 2019 in FST's Gompertz Theatre. For more information on this and other productions in the FST complex visit www.floridastudiotheatre.org.