“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 the ninth to inherit the county of Highhurst, controlled by the wealthy D’Ysquith banking family.After an imperious decision by the head of the family bank dismisses Monty’s claim to be a relative, the eight D’Ysquiths before the young Mr. Navarro begin to die naturally and unnaturally. (A single actor plays the not-so-nice D’Ysquiths, adding to the mirth.) Meanwhile, Monty tries to seduce money-conscious Sibella Hallward until he finds himself drawn to the young Phoebe D’Ysquith How are all these convoluted storylines going to fit together?
I must have seen all the black-and-white British comedies on late-night TV as a teenager: I hollered about Alec Guiness and Peter Sellers and the low-budget but still very funny Carry On. . . troop. 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. In fact, the playing, the singing, the melodies and the precision of the British delivery remind me of Gilbert & Sullivan. But unlike the bloodthirsty (?) Pirates of Penzance where the pirates are actually too nice to commit a lie let alone murder, in A Gentleman’s Guide the whole point is to commit murder. . . one after another while keeping your upper lip stiff and climbing the social ladder deliciously.
FYI: There are no trumpets or cornets in the production. Crowns refer to lesser crowns and minor royalty.
It’s almost a room within a room. . . or at least one step upon a step.
Imagine a show that has the vocal truthfulness of Gilbert & Sullivan racing Stephen Sondheim to see who’s the fastest and add a heavy dose of Monty Python and you have Gentleman’s Guide.
Sam Barker stars as Alec Guiness, the D’Ysquith family members who block Monty’s social climb. This is Sam’s tenth performance at TMP. There was an extremely funny bit that I think was ad lib, but done so easily and funny that it should be left in the production.
Sam lives and dies for performing on the TMP stage. Each death is unique. I loved Asquith Jr.’s death on ice skates. The mounting deaths prompted Monty himself to help.
Monty begins with his cousin Henry, a country squire and beekeeper. Soon the thoughts of death began to swarm.
Scott Polovitch-Davis plays killer and social climber Monty D’Ysquith Navarro. Scott says, “It’s the first show I’ve done where I hardly ever leave the stage. My character, Monty D’Ysquith Navarro, narrates and participates in the action, so I can see or be in almost every scene. I have so many favorite moments in the series.
The vocally demanding music takes on both the skills of high-level opera and the physical demands of the most modern musicals. The three leads, Scott Polovitch-Davis, Brittney Stout-Ogren, Ally Atwood and the entire ensemble didn’t just keep up with the beat, they owned it and were thrilled to share it with the world! Sibella Hallward (played by Brittney Stout Ogren) decides to marry Monty. Brittney has a beautiful voice and brilliant comedic timing. She revealed what she loved about the production and her role, “Sibella was definitely a to-do list role for me. Her fiery personality and incredible vocal range were a welcome challenge.
Ally Atwood’s (Phoebe) sheer soprano soars in her solos and above the ensemble, and she can flap her eyes and pout like no one has. My favorite scene has a hallway dividing the rooms with Sibella’s bedroom on the left and Phoebe’s bedroom on the right. Monty bounces between the rooms and the hallway like a steering wheel.
In the end, Monty might just get away with murder, a good income, and two women who love him. Lord Adalbert is the last death he needs. Over dinner, Lord Adalbert tells one of his stories from the Boer War. He asks Monty to roleplay with a loaded gun and shoot him. Monty can’t do it. . but Lord Adalbert still falls dead.
Director and choreographer Jon Douglas Rake says: “This show is a technically challenging show both for the set, costumes and lighting, but also for the cast. The music is harsh and complex. . . The show is magnificent and very professional. I was disappointed there were no tap numbers, but I’ll live. The pacing, delivery and sets were delightful. Each death was in a different setting and acted like a punchline with perfect timing providing peals, giggles, cackles, and big laughs. Rakes’ direction was perfect.
The theater is always immaculate and the volunteers very friendly. We always buy cookies in the lobby. My only regret for the evening was not buying and sharing Heritage Distilling Co.’s signature cocktail, “Poison in My Pocket” with HDC Vodka, Creme de. Mint and cream.
My wife Peg and my cousin Lavinia Hart (our review team) had second row seats, while I sat alone in the front row. The woman on my left was there with her husband. She shared how much she enjoys each show and she loved this one. To my right was a young man who had moved here to study for his master’s degree as a teacher. He had seen Gentleman’s Guide on Broadway and loved it. He was amazed at the number of small theaters in the Puget Sound area. After the curtain, he said “It’s still my favorite production.” I noticed that since he 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 lit up at the mention and said, “I live in Federal Way!”
If you like live musical comedy, you should buy your tickets for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. The show runs until April 10.
Buy your tickets at – tix6.centerstageticketing.com/sites/tacommusicalplayhouse/