A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
Reviewed by Terry Morgan
Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre
Through May 1
I’m often disappointed with the touring versions of shows that did well on Broadway or in London, so it was a very pleasant surprise to find that the current production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder at the Ahmanson is excellent on every level. Based on the same source material as the classic film Kind Hearts and Coronets, this show is a dark delicacy of exquisite charm.
After his mother dies, Monty Navarro (Kevin Massey) discovers that he is related to the wealthy D’Ysquith family (its members all played by John Rapson), who disinherited her when she married for love. He also discovers that he is ninth in line to inherit their great wealth, so he starts killing them off. He’s hoping to earn the hand of his beloved but high-maintenance Sibella (Kristen Beth Williams), but he also falls for one of his new relations, Phoebe (Adrienne Eller), which complicates his deadly task.
Massey does a terrific job as the anti-hero and straight man to all of Rapson’s eccentrics, and he’s onstage almost the entire show. Rapson, a master of quick costume changes, delivers a tour de force as nine separate characters (including Chauncey the janitor, yet another D’Ysquith heir who makes an appearance near the end). He’s particularly memorable as the seemingly un-killable Hyacinth and the kindly Asquith Sr., and his vocal turns on “Better with a Man” and “I Don’t Understand the Poor” are hilarious.
Williams excels as the gold-digging but possessive Sibella, bringing her lovely voice to bear on the passive-aggressive sentiments in “I Don’t Know What I’d Do.” Eller is forthright and sweet as Phoebe, and makes a strong impression when she sings “Inside Out.” Williams, Eller and Massey are a superb trio in the door-slamming and show-stopping “I’ve Decided to Marry You.”
Director Darko Tresnjak, who benefits from a tremendous design team, stages everything with panache. Alexander Dodge’s set — a superbly detailed replica of a proscenium theatre — melds beautifully with Aaron Rhyne’s projection design (probably the best use of this technology I’ve ever seen). Linda Cho’s costumes are comic and lush, and Peggy Hickey’s choreography is delightfully inventive. Robert L. Freedman’s and Steven Lutvak’s lyrics are enormously clever, and Lutvak’s music is tuneful; they combine to sound like a lost Sondheim show.
Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles; Tues.- Fri. 8 p.m.; Sat. 2 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Sun. 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m.; through May 1. CenterTheatreGroup.org. Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15 minute intermission.