Murder most foul has been a steady, reliable storyline for recorded history—from Greek tragedies to horror novels and on to HBO and Netflix moneymakers. The fascination with the purposeful demise of another is in full swing in LTA’s “A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder,” providing a decidedly hilarious bent on the dastardly deed.
And what better reason than a brisk jaunt up the social ladder? In true Dickensian fashion, we meet young Monty Navarro, (the delightfully dastardly Drew Goins) a handsome, amiable sort who is of common means and little hope for success. This dashes his hopes for the pretentiously lovely Sibella (a maddeningly irresistible Katie Weigl) who teases him in pretentious tones. What to do when he stumbles upon the fact that he is a D’Ysquith–a zinger in itself–a distant heir to the title of Earl of Highhurst? An offing we will go!
The show was a Tony Award winner and Robert Freedman’s book—which deservedly scored a Tony of its own—is snappy and filled with gems, though this romp has little character development. Think of it as a wittier, certainly lighter “Sweeney Todd,” dealing with a determined man, also focusing on body count, but laughter is the currency for the night’s journey.
The demise of the D’Ysquith heirs are done in ingenious fashion, each family member a familiar foil for the British Music Hall style sendup of the upper class: there is the devil may care playboy, a besotted, babbling clergyman, the vain philanthropist Lady Hyacinth, a dandy gardening enthusiast, and so on. This diversity of opportunity is an open door for physical comedy and wordplay, As the victims are all played by one actor, the role is a tour-de-force (how often do you get to use that term?) and is tailor-made for Chuck Dluhy, a local and LTA veteran whose role in “The Nance” prepared him for this over the top performances as a dandy.
The plot is also complicated by intertwined and conflicting love interests. At the start, scrapping along Monty is smitten by Sibella, who toys with Monty like a cat with a mouse, but has her sights set on someone better off. When Monty asks Sibella if she ever considered marrying for love, she recoils, protesting “Now you’re being cruel!” Later, during his murderous social climbing up the D’Ysquith family tree, Monty meets lovely and sensitive Phoebe D’Ysquith, (the operatic Alexandra Chase) who falls in love with him.
…a decidedly hilariously bend on the dastardly deed.
Weigl’s Sibella, is a fine study in nuance, with eyes big as saucers, regaling Monty with askew glances. Her emotions, from a single look, are visceral and added smooth alto vocals. The hilarious scene between Sibella, Phoebe, and Monty in “I’ve Decided to Marry You” is a comic gem, played between an entranceway between 2 doors, combines bright lyrics, and spot-on timing. Goins was effortless onstage, hearkening a young Hugh Grant, trying to apologize all the time in a charming, bumbling way. His vocals blended well throughout.
Impish moments pop up unexpectedly, as in the lyric, wondering why so many of the D’Ysquith’s are dying, sing “Suddenly they’re congregating underneath the sod!”
Dluhy’s unbridled antics provide the energy throughout the show. More actor than singer, he plays the different styles admirably, His patter treatise on the absurdity of not having wealth, “I Don’t Understand the Poor” was a highlight. It was even guffaw worthy watching him reposition his hastily glued-on moustaches.
Musical styles range from patter-like to romantic to drinking songs to the requisite anthem, the stirring “The Last One You’d Expect.” The score doesn’t have songs for the ages, but it fits like a custom-tailored Elizabethan glove.
Frank D. Shutts II directs “Gentleman’s Guide” with a full awareness that cheekiness and hilarity are job one. This show is not meant to enlighten, to probe, or to provoke. There is simple, effective group choreography, courtesy of Stefan Sittig, and it suits the material and the space well.
The ensemble takes on a variety of the smaller roles throughout “Gentleman’s Guide,” and all do excellent work. It is worth calling out all the talented ensemble who created visual montages onstage as well as quality vocal backup: Audrey Baker, Devin Deitrich, Derek Marsh, Allison Mayer, Jordan Peyer, and Margie Remmers, all who were in on the wink wink, nod nod.
The scenic, lighting, and sound design all serve the production well. A special nod to Jean Schlicting and Kit Sibley for adorning the actors with accurate and functional period pieces, especially for quick scene changes. LTA has a reputation for impressive costume design and has kept the tradition going, giving us a colorful array of Edwardian apparel. Also to Conductor Christopher Tomasino, whose 12 piece orchestra was unseen but well balanced and spot on.
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is cleverly constructed so that even when we can pretty much guess where things are going, there are still constant surprises. (Right up to the very end…)
Running Time: 2 hours and 35 minutes with an intermission.
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is presented at the Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe St, Alexandria, VA from Jan. 18 to Feb. 8, 2020. For more information, call 703 683-0496 or online.