On a scale of 1 to 10, the First National Tour of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder — which won the 2014 Tony Award® for Best Musical and three other Tonys — rates at least a 15! The latest offering in the Durham Performing Arts Center’s critically acclaimed SunTrust Broadway Series is sure to number among the highlights of the 2015-16 Triangle theater season.
Rarely has such a highly anticipated production exceeded expectations to such a degree. But the effervescent musical staging by 2014 Tony-winning director Darko Tresnjak and choreographer Peggy Hickey, the ingenious scenic design of 2014 Tony nominee Alexander Dodge, the striking Edwardian outfits artfully adapted for lightning-quick costume changes by 2014 Tony-winning costume designer Linda Cho, vivid scene-enhancing video projections by Aaron Rhyne, and the pixilated performance of a stellar cast of young Broadway veterans make A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder truly a theatrical night to remember.
Kevin Massey is delightful as murderously ambitious — yet somehow likable — Montague D’Ysquith “Monty” Navarro — think Macbeth as a witch (and warlock) hunter, with a hit list comprised of the eight odious heirs to the D’Ysquith family fortune and the hereditary earldom of Highhurst who are ahead of him in the line of succession.
The audience always roots for underdogs, and Monty is the ultimate underdog: a poor downtrodden boy from the slums of southwest London district of Clapham whose prospects to better himself are virtually nonexistent. Then, on the no good, horrible, very bad day of his washerwoman-mother’s funeral, a mysterious old woman named Miss Marietta Shingle (played with pluck by Mary VanArsdel) shows up unexpectedly to inform the grieving boy that his penniless mother was, in fact, a disinherited daughter of the wealthy and aristocratic D’Ysquith family — disowned and denied because she fell in love with a Castilian musician and — defying her family’s frowning disapproval — eloped and lived happily with the Spaniard until his untimely death when Monty was seven.
But Monty’s joy at being a D’Ysquith is shortlived, because the snooty family of Lord and Lady Disdains refuses to acknowledge him or help him climb out of poverty. Rather than slink away with his figurative tail once again between his legs, Monty concocts an audacious scheme to climb the ladder of succession by systemically eliminating the eight D’Ysquiths currently standing between him and the earldom. Multiple murder has never been such a merry affair!
John Rapson heightens the hilarity with knee-slapping cameos of the hateful eight D’Ysquiths on Monty’s (kick-the-)bucket list. Rapson puts on a veritable acting clinic as he slips smoothly beneath the skins of snobbish stockbroker Asquith D’Ysquith, Jr.; loathsome Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith (the current Earl of Highhurst); tipsy country parson Rev. Lord Ezekial D’Ysquith; finicky financier Lord Asquith D’Ysquith, Sr.; silly beekeeping country squire Henry D’Ysquith; increasingly desperate would-be philanthropist Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith; bellicose British Army officer Major Lord Bartholomew D’Ysquith; and ultra-histrionic actress Lady Salomé D’Ysquith Pumphrey.
To paint distinctive portraits of these eight colorful characters, John Rapson varies his voice, accent, facial expressions, mannerisms, gait, and posture — and whirls like a dervish through an eye-popping array of costumes and wigs. His is a virtuoso performance that deserves a standing ovation all by itself. In fact, it alone is worth the price of admission.
Kristen Beth Williams is wonderfully wicked as Monty’s coquettish childhood chum and one-time girlfriend Sibella Hallward, who married for money and position but keeps returning to Monty’s embrace. Adrienne Eller is cute as Monty’s clueless fiancée, PhoebeD’Ysquith, who nearly catches him in flagrante delicto with Sibella in one of the show’s funniest scenes.
Lesley McKinnell is also amusing as Asquith D’Ysquith, Jr.’s ditsy mistress, former Florodora girl Evangeline Barley; and Kristen Mengelkoch is a stitch as the furious Lady Eugenia, who is so angry at her boorish husband (Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith) that she could spit — and she does, in one of the funniest meals that a dysfunctional family ever shared onstage. Their comic hijinks — and the other memorable performances cited above help make A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder a must-see musical comedy. Don’t miss it!
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 14th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-A-GENTLEMANS-GUIDE-TO-LOVE-MURDER-National-Tour-at-Durham-Performing-Arts-Center-20151014; Oct. 14th Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/review-a-gentleman-s-guide-to-love-and-murder-is/article_a0f308d0-727f-11e5-af86-1fac223ce5ea.html and Oct. 8th preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/gentleman-s-guide-n-c-native-stars-in-national-tour/article_2422800a-6d35-11e5-a07d-a73722af9c18.html (Note: You must subscribe to read these articles); Oct. 14th Burlington, NC Times-News review by Rachel Teseneer for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/gentlemans-guide-to-love-and-murder-is-a-fun-spectacle-to-watch/; and Oct. 13th Durham, NC WTVD/ABC11 interview with actors Kevin Massey and John Rapson, conducted by Barbara Gibbs: http://abc11.com/entertainment/a-gentlemans-guide-to-love-and%20murder-opens-at-dpac/1030971/; and Oct. 10th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article38741292.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Oct. 13th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2015/10/john-rapson-portrays-eight-hapless-dysquiths-in-a-gentlemans-guide-to-love-murder-at-dpac/.)
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14 and 15, 8 p.m. Oct. 16, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 17, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Oct. 19 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, NC 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $35-$150. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), tickets@DPACnc.com, or http://www.DPACnc.com/events-tickets/where-to-buy.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/2117652.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.DPACnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
SHOW: http://www.DPACnc.com/events/detail/a-gentlemens-guide-to-love-murder and https://www.facebook.com/events/1437043413274162/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: http://www.agentlemansguidebroadway.com/gallery.php.
THE TOUR: http://www.agentlemansguidebroadway.com/cast.php and http://www.ibdb.com/Production/View/500923.
TOUR CAST & CREATIVE TEAM: http://www.agentlemansguidebroadway.com/cast.php.
DPAC NEWS RELEASE: http://www.DPACnc.com/news/detail/a-gentlemans-guide-to-love-and-murder-is-coming-to-DPAC-october-13-18-2015.
2015-16 SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: http://www.DPACnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2015-16.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.DPACnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder (2013 San Diego and 2013 Broadway musical): http://www.agentlemansguidebroadway.com/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=494804 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.facebook.com/AGentlemansGuideBroadway (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/GentlemansGuide (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Gentleman%27s_Guide_to_Love_and_Murder (Wikipedia).
Steven Lutvak (music and lyrics): http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/494807 (Internet Broadway Database).
Robert L. Freedman (book and lyrics): http://robertlfreedman.com/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/494806 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_L._Freedman (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing email@example.com and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)