This season, the show that has captured my heart is A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, an ingenious little tuner that's as refreshing as a tall glass of Pimm's and ginger ale (with a slice of cucumber and a sprig of mint, if you would be so kind).
The show played the Hartford Stage a few seasons back, and I'm really sorry now that I wasn't able to get down there during the run. I would love to have seen how the show changed in the development process. As it stands, it's a delightfully clever and tuneful little jewel box of a show (with a few minor blemishes, as we shall see).
One of the most remarkable things about Gentleman's Guide is that practically everyone on the creative staff is making his or her Broadway debut, including librettist/lyricist Robert L. Freedman, composer/lyricist Steven Lutvak, director Darko Tresnjak; and choreographer Peggy Hickey. May this be the first of many for all involved.
The plot to Gentleman's Guide will sound familiar to anyone who's seen the 1949 film "Kind Hearts and Coronets," starring Alec Guinness. Our humble antihero, Monty Navarro, discovers one day that he is ninth in line in the succession to the Earl of Something-or-other. It turns out that the family disinherited Monty's beloved and recently deceased mother, so Monty takes it upon himself to, well, prune the family tree, as it were. With each elimination, Monty finds himself rising through society, although we do know from the show's framing device, which has Monty narrating the story from his prison cell, that he doesn't get away with it. (Or does he?)
The production is certainly mannered, even a tad twee at times, but as an inveterate Anglophile, I ate it up, both times I saw the show. The production values are charmingly precious, calling to mind the intimacy of the fabled Princess musicals, or perhaps the the Music Box revues. Director Tresnjack demonstrates a sure hand with the swift pacing, and a sharp eye with abundant visual gags, as well as the more-than-occasional wink to the audience
Primary among the show's pleasures are the cast members, led by Bryce Pinkham, who's absolutely perfect for the part of Monty: charming, handsome, but with a definite wild-eyed edge, making Monty both sympathetic and wicked at the same time. Alongside Pinkham, we have Tony winner Jefferson Mays who gives a downright Herculean performance, changing with breakneck speed from portraying one victim to the next. (Sort of the reverse of Murder for Two, in which one actor plays all of the suspects.) As the women in Monty's life, both Lisa O'Hare and Lauren Worsham bring exactly the right distinctive, idiomatic touches to their respective characterizations, and possess impeccable singing voices to boot.
Freedman and Lutvak, in addition to crafting a deliciously entertaining book, have matched it with clever lyrics with apt turns of phrase aplenty, and a jaunty, frolicsome score reminiscent of English music hall and Gilbert and Sullivan, with a little Victor Herbert thrown in for good measure. Each number seems to bring its own sense of delicious fun to the proceedings. Even when you think you're in for a straightforward ballad, the authors through us a curve to make it all the more enjoyable.
The only minor blemish for me came during the denouement, which I shan't ruin here and spoil the fun for you. Both times I saw the show, I didn't quite follow the logic of how the final turn of events came about, who was doing what and with whom, and why events transpire as they do. It's a tribute to the quality of the rest of the show that the slightly confusing plot resolution did nothing to deter my immense enjoyment of the piece as a whole.