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The outrageously funny and insanely witty 2014 Best Musical Tony Award® winner has arrived to Orange County in its first national tour! Now playing at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER has made its ferocious opening to rip-roarious laughter and boisterous applause! No matter what you have heard, or the number of times you have heard the Broadway soundtrack, justice is not served unless you witness it first hand. Nothing will be able to prepare oneself for the hilarity that will ensue. This nonstop, speedily-paced dark comedy is filled with lively music and a cast of uniquely colorful enriching characters that will have you belly-up in no time. I am thankful I got my chance to see this already prized musical so soon!
London, 1909, A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER tells the most unlikely of stories of penniless Monty Navarro who finds himself as a distant heir to a celebrated wealthy family, the D’Ysquiths. With being a mere 8 earls in succession and a non-contender in his loves hand for marriage due to his lack of fame or fortune, Monty figures his only way to win her heart would be to kill all the successors ahead in line. In the mean time, Monty finds true love and must juggle his mistress, his fiancé, and the threat of being caught in his scheme.
What may seem an impossible plotline to keep track of, Robert L. Freedman’s book and Darko Tresnjak’s direction makes for a fairly simple story to follow. With effortless banter and snappy back-and-forth dialogue, A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE moves swiftly from one kill, er… I mean, one scene to the next. Steven Lutvak’s music along with lyrics penned by both Lutvak and Robert L. Freedman follow a rhythm and style that makes the storytelling presented through song easy to understand. The plethora of songs retain a sense of intrigue as the audiences awaits each next set to see what our leading man will get into next.
Lutvak’s music is a classic operatic style with vintage cabaret melodies and vocalization. Every song contains moments requiring true talent along with perhaps a little early 1900s stylized inflections. In the undoubtedly most iconic number in the show, “I’ve Decided to Marry You”, all aspects of the show cumulate together with physical, slapstick humor with creative stage choreography to quick cleverly orchestrated exchanges of lines that should bring joy to every theatergoer.
While the music is crisp and classic, its truly the characters of A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE that shines above all else. There is no mistaking that the star of the show is not the “leading man”, Monty Navarro, but rather the actor of several characters played all by JOHN RAPSON. This man not only plays NINE different characters, he also plays them all incredibly differently, just as wildly entertaining as the last, AND must switch in and out of each role in mere seconds! (Costume changes included!)
With some slight trickery at times and well planned-out clothing layers, RAPSON is able to transform between many members of the D’Ysquith family from a ridiculous goober of a Reverend to a very large Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith with a prominent bosom and all. This show would be nothing without a solid performance in this role. Fortunately, this production benefits from the brilliance that is JOHN RAPSON. At times I felt I would be satisfied with just a one man show starring him. His performance was the clear reason for the audience reception of the show as it continued to build. The crowds laughter erupted louder with each new character.
Mind you the delightful KRISTEN HAHN as Monty’s fiance and KRISTEN BETH WILLIAMS as the mistress could not have been more flawless. Both a true gem and incredibly charming in their own right. KEVIN MASSEY as the leading man no doubt carried the show with being onstage nearly the entire show. He has impeccable timing and wonderful stage presence.
Speaking of the stage, it’s beautiful! Cleverly minimized within the broader frames of Segerstrom Hall, the stage is basically a stage within a stage. Sliding forward and back and key moments, the smaller stage helps bring an intimate feel to a show performed in such a large space. This seems necessary with a small cast of characters usually on stage with most scenes only containing two or three present with random flocks of others for some small support. Surrounding the stage… on the stage… are small downstage sets for transitional scenes. This lends well for setting the pace and allowing the actions from the actors play bigger than the need for lavish sets for each scene. The sets and production design lend well as support to the musical that never interfere with the actual scene.
This is not a show that music alone would bring its justice. Rather this requires a seat in the theater with a view of all the ridiculousness that this show has to offer. From the opening, Monty conceals no secrets that the audience is in for a quite off the wall show with an idea that him killing eight people will be practically normal. There was no yawning moment or even a chance to for a glisten of boredom, A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER lends an entertaining night out that will have audience members falling out of their chair with laughter. It’s unique, refreshing and simply, a riot. It will be bringing joy to theatergoer for many years to come without a doubt! You know a show has past the test when an unconventional comedy can feel like a classic after one watch.
A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER is playing through March 5th at Segerstrom Center for the Arts with tickets starting at just $29. Visit SCFTA.org for ticket details and more information.