PPAC's "Gentleman's Guide": And Then There Were None

Kristen Beth Williams, Kevin Massey & Kristen Hahn in
"A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder"
(photo: Joan Marcus)

The story behind the story of the musical comedy A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, now being presented at Providence Performing Arts Center, is a lengthy one. Based on a popular 1949 British film, “Kind Hearts and Coronets”, with Alec Guiness playing eight parts, it was adapted for the stage over six decades later, in 2012, premiering at Hartford Stage Company, then at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre in 2013, and subsequently moving to Broadway where it won four 2013 Tony Awards including Best Musical. With a witty Book by Robert L. Freedman and sprightly Music by Steven Lutvak, and incredibly clever Lyrics by both Freedman and Lutvak, it was an unusually literate work by typical Broadway musical standards. It's an amazing amalgam of music hall, vaudeville and operetta forms. Though the film and stage versions are sixty years apart, they share an indisputable commonality, namely an ingenious mixture of high and low comedy, in what amounts to a hilarious murder mystery spoof.

It's also nearly impossible to describe or synopsize without revealing spoilers. Suffice it to say that the basic plot remains the same, with some name changes and alterations that help move the story along, requiring that members of the very upper class D'Ysquith clan be eliminated in order for the anti-hero Monty Navarro (Kevin Massey) to inherit the family fame and fortune, with each new character's disposal funnier than the last. There are various means and methods of dispatch, some romantic entanglements, and an awful lot of farcical expertise. What matters most is that the performances be firmly tongue in cheek without going too far over the top, which is here dependent on the skill of Director Darko Tresnjak (reprising his Tony Award winning effort) and the comic timing of his cast.

That cast of characters include virtually the entire D'Ysquith Family, (all played by the versatile John Rapson). That would be Asquith Jr., Adalbert, Ezekial, Asquith Sr., Hyacinth, Bartholomew, Salome and Henry. That would leave only Pheobe D'Ysquith (Kristen Hahn) unscathed by the unexpected D'Ysquith, Monty, who aspires to the family status and wealth, as well as the hand of the lovely Sibella Hallward (Kristen Beth Williams). Rounding out the cast are Miss Shingle (Jennifer Smith), Lady Eugenia (Kristen Mengelkoch), Tom Copley (Matt Leisy), a Magistrate (Christopher Behmke), Chief Inspector Pinckney (Ben Roseberry), Miss Barley (Catherine Walker), and a Tour Guide (Megan Loomis). All are very properly unproper as the plot requires. And who could resist a show with a character whose very name evokes guffaws: Asquith D'Ysquith (and try saying that one fast thrice).

The creative team includes fine Choreography by Peggy Hickey, Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, ingenious Costume Design by Linda Cho, marvelous set-within-a-set-within-a-set Scenic Design by Alexander Dodge, Lighting Design by Phillip S. Rosenberg, glorious Projection Design by Aaron Rhyne, and Sound Design by Dan Moses Schreier.

In the end (and most of the cast meet theirs), the show is a series of murderous escapades that certainly deserved the awards it garnered, and this production is well worth a visit for a hysterically funny time, brilliantly harmless; that is, unless you're another D'Ysquith yourself.

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