“Set in London in 1907, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder centers on Monty Navarro, a penniless clerk who is informed after the death of his mother that he is ninth in line to inherit the earldom of Highhurst, controlled by the wealthy D’Ysquith banking family. After an imperious ruling from the head of the family’s bank dismisses Monty’s claim of being a relative, the eight D’Ysquiths ahead of young Mr. Navarro begin dying in natural and unnatural ways. (A single actor plays the not-so-nice D’Ysquiths, adding to the merriment.) Meanwhile, Monty is trying to woo money-minded Sibella Hallward — until he finds himself drawn to young Phoebe D’Ysquith. How will all these convoluted storylines come together?
I must have seen every black and white British comedy on late night TV as a teenager: I howled at Alec Guiness and Peter Sellers as well as the low budget but still very funny Carry On . . . troupe. Many films stood out, but Kind Hearts and Coronets with Alec Guiness playing eight related characters was an absolute favorite. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is based on Kind Hearts and Coronets, which is based on the novel “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal” (1907) by Roy Horniman. Actually, the acting, the singing, the tunes and the preciseness of the British elocution reminds me of Gilbert & Sullivan. But unlike the blood thirsty (?) Pirates of Penzance where the pirates are actually too nice to commit a falsehood much less murder, in A Gentleman’s Guide the whole point is to commit murder . . . one after another while maintaining a stiff upper lip and delightfully climbing the social ladder.
FYI: There are no trumpets or cornets in the production. Coronets refer to small crowns and minor royalty.
It’s almost a play within a play . . . or at least a stage upon a stage.
Imagine a show that has the vocal veracity of Gilbert & Sullivan racing Stephen Sondheim to see who’s faster and throw in a heavy dose of Monty Python and you’ve got Gentleman’s Guide.
Playing the Alec Guiness part, the D’Ysquith family members blocking Monty’s rise up the social ladder, is Sam Barker. This is Sam’s tenth performance at TMP. There was one extremely funny bit that I think was ad lib, but done so effortlessly funny it should be left in the production.
Sam lives and dies for acting on the TMP stage. Each death is unique. I loved the ice skating death of Asquith Jr. The mounting deaths prompted the helpful hand of Monty himself.
Monty begins with his cousin Henry, a country squire and keeper of bees. Soon ideas of death began swarming.
Scott Polovitch-Davis plays killer and social climber Monty D’Ysquith Navarro. Scott says, “This is the first show that I’ve done where I hardly ever leave the stage. My character, Monty D’Ysquith Navarro, narrates and participates in the action, so I get to see or be in nearly every scene. I have so many favorite moments in the show.”
The vocally challenging music takes both the skill of high Opera and physical demands of the most modern of musicals. The three leads, Scott Polovitch-Davis, Brittney Stout-Ogren, Ally Atwood and the entire ensemble weren’t just keeping up with it, they owned it and were deliriously thrilled to share it with the world! Sibella Hallward (played by Brittney Stout Ogren) makes up her mind to marry Monty. Brittney has a lovely voice and brilliant comedic timing. She revealed what she loved about the production and her role, “Sibella was definitely a bucket list role for me. Her fiery personality and incredible vocal range were a welcomed challenge.”
Ally Atwood’s (Phoebe) pure soprano soars in her solos and above the ensemble, and she can bat her eyes and pout like nobody’s business. My favorite scene has a hallway dividing rooms with Sibella’s room on the left and Phoebe’s room on the right. Monty bounces and forth between the rooms and hallway like a shuttlecock.
In the end Monty just might get away with murder, a good income, and two women who love him. Lord Adalbert is the last death he needs. At a dinner party Lord Adalbert tells a story of his from the Boer War. He demands Monty play a part with a loaded rifle and shoot him. Monty can’t do it . . but Lord Adalbert drops dead anyway.
Director & Choreographer Jon Douglas Rake says, “This show is a technically difficult show both set, costume, and lighting but also for the cast. The music is hard and complex. . . The show is beautiful and very professional looking.” I was disappointed there were not tap dancing numbers, but I’ll live. The pace, the delivery, and the stage sets were delightful. Each death was in a different setting and acted like a punchline with perfect timing providing guffaws, chuckles, cackles, and outright blooming laugher. Rakes directing was spot on.
The theatre is always spick and span and the volunteers so friendly. We always buy cookies in the lobby. My only regret for the evening was not buying and sharing the Heritage Distilling Co. signature cocktail, “Poison in My Pocket” with HDC Vodka, creme de. Menthe and cream.
My wife Peg and my cousin Lavinia Hart (our review team) had second row seats, while I sat by myself in the front row. The woman on my left was there with her husband. She shared how much she enjoys every show and she loved this one. On my right was a young man who had moved here to study for his masters as a teacher. He had seen Gentleman’s Guide on Broadway and loved it. He was amazed at the number of small theatres in the Puget Sound area. After the curtain, he said “This is still my favorite production.” I remarked that since he had mentioned the number of local theaters, he might want to check out two upcoming performances: The Pirates of Penzance at the University of Puget Sound and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at CenterStage in Federal Way. He brightened up at the mention and said, “I live in Federal Way!”
If you like musical comedy on stage then you should be getting your tickets for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. The show runs through April 10th.
Get your tickets at – tix6.centerstageticketing.com/sites/tacomamusicalplayhouse/