A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder

By Roz Friedman

A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder is so delightful, I implore you to get to the Hartford Stage as quickly as possible. This charming musical of revenge and mayhem plays only through November 11.


For all information about tickets and times you must call 860-527 5151 or use the website: Hartfordstage.org. Set in the Edwardian Period, the story is so very much like the wonderful film, “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” which was based on the 1907 novel, “Israel Rank,” that I am surprised it is not acknowledged in the playbill. It should be!


Directed and staged cleverly by Darko Tresnjak and choreographed by Peggy Hickey, this delicious romp stars the incomparable Jefferson Mays, who, in a tour de force turn, dashes in an out of wigs, mustaches, coats, hats and sari's playing all nine D'Ysquiths, wealthy Lords, Earls and their Ladies. This seems to be his forte; Mays won a Tony for his stint playing 30 roles in I Am My Own Wife.


We learn about this infamous family from Monty Navarro, who when the show opens is in prison busy writing his memoirs and awaiting the verdict of his guilt or innocence. Ken Barnett is handsome, and projects the right dollops of sex appeal and naivete as this young man who wants to revenge his mother's terrible disinheritance by her D'Ysquith family. (She married a Castillian musician!) He is also madly in love with Sibella, the stunning Lisa O'Hare, and he is deterred not a bit when she marries someone else, for they carry on their affair as if nothing happened.


Another woman fights for his hand as well: Phoebe, the lovely Chilina Kennedy, who possesses a spectacular soprano voice. While Monty rises from penury to Earldom, members of the family pop off in very funny scenes: an ice-skating accident, a lethal bee-sting attack, heart failure, poison, and even an axe are responsible for deaths. The cast, all dressed in Linda Cho's beauitful costumes, is excellent. Rachel Izzen is a hoot as Miss Shingle.


Since this is a musical, let us talk about the creators. With first-rate orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, music by Steven Lutvak is melodic and in part pays homage to Gilbert & Sullivan. The book by Robert Freedman moves the action along well; the Freedman and Lutvak's Lyrics tell the story, when you can understand them. Alexander Dodge's multi-faceted set lit by Phillip Rosenberg is surrounded by a decorative proscenium that is pushed back-which removes the actors and the action from the audience.


However, the singing portraits and other surprises make A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder great fun.  Playing through November 11 at HARTFORD STAGE.

This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS PUBLIC RADIO


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