Joanna Glushak, Lauren Worsham, Bryce Pinkham, Lisa O'Hare, and Jefferson Mays as Lord Adalbert D'Ysquith in A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER. Photo by Joan Marcus.
BOTTOM LINE: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder is a new musical comedy starring the show-stealing Jefferson Mays as eight comical murder victims.
Broadway has a new serial killer in town: the conniving but strangely likeable Monty Navarro, determined to violently climb the ranks of his wealthy family tree. The premise of the new musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder is fairly simple: upon his mother’s death, the poor peasant Monty (Bryce Pinkham) discovers that he is, in fact, Montague D’Ysquith Navarro. After unearthing his late mother’s lost lineage, humble Monty realizes that not only is he a blood relative of the infamously wealthy and powerful D’Ysquith family, he is actually ninth in line to become the Earl. Frustrated after losing his social-climbing girlfriend Sibella (Lisa O’Hare) to a wealthier man, it becomes obvious what Monty must do: craftily kill off the eight long-lost family members who stand in the way of his dukedom.
After a successful run at Hartford Stage last year, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder opened earlier this week at Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre. The new musical is a darkly comic and delightfully silly comedy created by Broadway newcomers Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, and the evening, though overlong, provides plenty of perfectly-executed (no pun intended) comedic gags and musical moments.
While Pinkham gives a polished performance as the show’s antihero, Jefferson Mays gives the shining performance as he masterfully shifts characters to play every member of the ill-fated D’Ysquith family. In what is sure to be one of the most memorable comedic performances of the season, Mays plays a variety of quirky D’Ysquiths, hilariously portraying characters such as the brutish and snobby Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith, the effeminate beekeeper Henry D’YSquith, and the dreadful stage actress Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith. It’s hard not to be mesmerized and delighted as he swiftly shifts from character to character, and impossible not to laugh at each family member’s creatively gruesome demise.
As for this gentleman’s tale of love, terrific performances by Lisa O’Hare and Lauren Worsham create a dynamic love triangle with Pinkham’s manipulative Monty. “I’ve Decided to Marry You,” an Act 2 number in which Monty is simultaneously juggling the affection of the two women in two adjacent rooms, is a highlight — both as one of the best songs in Lutvak and Freedman’s score, and with hilariously sharp direction by director Darko Tresnjak. The entire ensemble is in top form, and together with Alexander Dodge’s lavish yet versatile set design, Peggy Hickey’s neat choreography, and Linda Cho’s brilliant early 1900s period costumes, the production is thoroughly high quality.
The downside of Gentleman’s Guide is its long length of two hours and thirty minutes. The repetitive gags start to wear thin by the end of the 90-minute first act, and I found myself counting on my fingers to determine how many more murders I’d have to endure before seeing the show come to its conclusion. Despite Mays’ dedicated performances, I couldn’t help but wish there could be a few less D’Ysquiths on the chopping block as the joke runs dry. The show’s plot and tone would be better suited for a musical of a shorter length, and Gentleman’s Guide would benefit from shaving at least 30 minutes from the running time for a tighter evening that soaks up the laughs without overextending its comedic value.
Despite the issue of its running time, there is no doubt that A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder is a crowd-pleaser that keeps its audience laughing from start to finish. Lutvak and Freedman’s tuneful and toe-tapping score is lovely, and Jefferson Mays’ gives a performance to remember in one of the most demanding character roles on Broadway. For those seeking a refreshing new musical comedy this Broadway season, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder is guaranteed to entertain even the most cynical of theatergoers.
(A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder plays at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street, in an open run. Performances are Mondays and Tuesdays at 7PM; Wednesdays at 2PM and 8PM; Fridays at 8PM; Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM, and Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are $99-$152 available by phone at (212) 239-6200 or via telecharge.com. Youth rush is available for $30 for those under 35.)