“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” has enchanted critics and garnered an impressive 10 Tony Award nominations. What is it about this murderously funny musical that has led to such acclaim?
Bryce Pinkham pulls off a killing spree with charm
Pinkham plays the less-than-affluent Monty Navarro, who suddenly learns he’s a distant member of the well-to-do D’Ysquith clan. In fact, he’s only eight successors away from earldom. His girlfriend, eager to marry for money, not love, plants the idea in his mind to knock off the relatives one-by-one until the title is his.
It sounds grusome, but Pinkham manages to make the audience love him, despite his character’s sadistic nature. His vocal skills and comedic talents pair well to win hearts, rather than turn viewers away.
And just a heads-up to would be patrons—despite the heads-off nature of the show, the killings are comical, not gory. This isn’t the stuff of horror flicks that will keep you up at night.
Jefferson Mays delightfully portrays a host of characters
Those eight relatives that Monty Navarro knocks off one-by-one? Each doomed D’Ysquith is played by Jefferson Mays. No stranger to multiple roles, Mays starred in the Broadway production of the one-man play, “I Am My Own Wife,” in which he portrayed more than 40 characters.
In “Gentleman’s Guide,” Mays presents each D’Ysquith, some more loathsome than others, with his or her own distinct style. Not only does the costuming change from character to character, but he also uses a new voice for each family member. His marvelous portrayal of the clan is a highlight of the show.
The British music hall styling is an enjoyable blast from the past
Music hall, the British counterpart to American vaudeville, is a fitting format for “Gentleman’s Guide,” which is set in 1909 London, right in the middle of music hall’s heyday. Sitting in the theater, the playful stage setting transports audiences to a hall from 100 years ago. Pair that with a lively cast clad in period costume and a star who dresses both male and female, and you’ve got all the makings of a rousing night at the music hall.
The music is both fun and funny
Some say that the musical styling of “Gentleman’s Guide” is reminiscent of Stephen Sondheim, while others say it leans toward Gilbert and Sullivan. Either way, the songs here remind listeners of musical theater from glory days gone by.
Lending further strength to the music are the entertaining lyrics penned by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak—a match made in Broadway heaven. Filled with double entendres, biting wit and exaggerated portrayals, these songs are packed with lines to keep the audience roaring with laughter.
It’s something new and fresh
It’s not that “Gentleman’s Guide” is entirely original. It’s based on the 1907 novel “Israel Rank” by Roy Horniman, also the source for the 1949 movie “Kind Hearts and Coronets.” However, the live presentation puts its own spin on these stories and does it in a way that’s different from anything else out on stages right now.
Shunning the common trend of musicals that come straight from pop culture, it’s rooted in old theater traditions, with contemporary twists that reinvent these approaches for a new generation of audiences.
The top nominee of the year, “Gentleman’s Guide” is up for 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Director. Both of the show’s leading men have received Best Actor nods.
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” opened November 17, 2013, and is currently on an open run at Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre.
Meghan Ross is a freelance writer covering all things home and living. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.