Monday, April 28, 2014

Gentlemen's Guide: Veddy British; NOT Veddy Proper

You're not likely to emerge from the new Broadway musical A Gentlemen's Guide To Love and Murder humming any of the tunes from the show.

And it's a safe bet that you'll be unable to fully explain the ridiculous tale that masquerades as the show's plot.

But you'll never forget the madcap antics of the fictional D'Ysquith family which has just provided you with more than your money's worth in musical comedy mayhem courtesy of Jefferson Mays, Bryce Pinkham, Lisa O'Hare, Lauren Worsham, Jane Carr and their cherry band of hugely talented thespians.

Bryce Pinkham plays the earnest and haphazardly cunning Monty [D'Ysquith] Navarro. And, in what is the greatest tour de force of the theatrical season, Jefferson Mays plays the entire D'ysquith family including Asquith Jr., Lord Adalbert, Asquith Sr., Henry, Lady Hyacinth, Rev. Lord Ezekial, Major Lord Bartholomew, and Lady Salome. Yes, that's eight different roles including two women. 

Pinkham is on stage every moment and proves to be an endearing (though nonetheless deadly) charmer throughout. And Mays is so versatile, so adaptable and slips through so many quick costume changes that you will wonder if there are not three or four or five or him. They are simply superb!

A Gentlemen's Guide is loosely based on the 1949 British black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets, a film which starred Sir. Alec Guiness and which was itself based on the even darker 1907 novel, Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal.

As best as we can describe it, here's how the story goes: After his beloved mother passes away, Monty Navarro discovers a deep, dark family secret. He is a distant poor relative of the wealthy and socially prominent Lord D'Ysquith. But this was all long since suppressed because the D'Ysuith family disinherited his mother when she married his father. Plus, Monty is only ninth in line to the fortune -- quite a stretch. So, he plots to inherit the title by murdering the eight other heirs who stand ahead of him. Along the way, he receives help from a family friend, Miss Shingle (Jane Carr) and woos two ravishing beauties, Sibella (Lisa O'Hare) and Phoebe (Lauren Worsham).

A Gentlemen's Guide is made up of equal parts of British music hall, American burlesque and Gilbert and Sullivan. And it owes much to similar nonsensical musicals such as The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Little Me and The Drowsy Chaperone.

It's positively zany and silly and thoroughly disdainful of the upper reaches of society.

But it's crafty as well. Very crafty.

This show knows how to entertain. And from its inviting stage design to its neatly-constructed script (with perfectly-timed gag lines) to the uproarious, broad comedy of its perfect cast, this is a show that never lets up. Indeed, its plot twists and comic turns continue right up until the very last minute of the very last scene, and even beyond.

To be sure, you may have to make your way through some heavily-accented British fast talking and you're well advised to stay away if farce is not your cup of tea.

Otherwise, go, enjoy and discover why A Gentlemen's Guide To Love and Murder is collecting all the nominations as Broadway's award's season heads into high gear.

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