Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

Melinda Schupmann Reviews - Theater

Murder in musical theater seems like a miscalculation, but over the years it has proven most effective. We can't forget the murderous barber Sweeney Todd or that most voracious of plants in Little Shop of Horrors. Giving them a run for their money is 3-D Theatricals' current charmer, Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. Receiving 10 Tony awards when it appeared in New York, it comes to Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts in as close to the original as one could hope for. Creators Robert L. Freedman (book and lyrics) and Steve Lutvak (music and lyrics) have created a witty foray into the darker side of homicide served up with gleeful abandon.

Monty Navarro (Rick Tubbs) has just lost his mother and is pondering his future when his mother's former friend, Miss Shingle (Tracy Lore), arrives with the news that he is the son of a wealthy family, the D'Ysquiths. Furthermore, there are only 8 family members ahead of him in line to inherit the title of the Earl of Highhurst. Since they are a singularly unpleasant group and deny him his rightful place as a member of the family, he begins to effect a hilarious series of murders, moving happily through their ranks.

Enhanced by Aaron Rhyne's original projection/video design, Navarro begins by bumping off Reverend Lord Ezekial D'Ysquith (Jeff Skowron), who plummets to his death from atop the ancestral bell tower in a kaleidoscopic descent.  Following this success, Monty begins the systematic elimination of the rest of the family, all played with relish by Skowron. From cousin Henry D'Ysquith (death by bees), Asquith D'Asquith, Jr (falls through the ice from a hole sawed by Monty), Lady Salome D'Ysquith Pumphrey (pistol shot to the head), and Lady Hyacinth D'Ysquith (death by drowning) among others, the show takes joyful delight in the various methods Monty employs.

Concurrently, Monty has fallen in love with Sibella Hallward (Julia Burrows). As a penniless clerk, he isn't marriage material for the ambitious Sibella, so she marries a more eligible man but continues an affair with Monty. Along the way, Monty meets a distant cousin, Phoebe D'Ysquith (Kelley Dorney), and she determines that she will marry him. In a lively song, "I've Decided to Marry You," the two women are at Monty's flat at the same time, and Monty's machinations in keeping them apart provides one of the most entertaining numbers in the show.

Both Dorney and Burrows have beautiful voices, and they show off Lutvak's melodies to great effect. Tubbs and Skowron also deliver their numbers effectively. Tubbs' "Sibella" shows off his dramatic chops, while Skowron must transform each of his characterizations with differing styles. He is a wonder.

The beginnings of both Acts I and II are stylish and creepily dark with Edward Gorey-like characters in black, setting the scene. The ensemble of Calvin Brady, Justin Charles Cowden, Richie Ferris, Jean Kauffman, and Dayna Sauble fill in for townspeople, servants, and the like, embellishing every scene in which they appear.

Jean-Yves Tessier's lighting and Julie Ferrin's sound design from Dan Moses Schreier's original work greatly enhance the look and feel of the production. Alexander Dodge's original scenic design is clever and stylish, creating multiple scenes both in country and city. Costumes by Linda Cho are authentically Edwardian,  especially varied as Skowron morphs into his characters.

Live orchestrations add the Broadway feel to the production, and Julie Lamoureux's musical direction and conducting is excellent. Choreography and direction by Peggy Hickey from Darko Tresnjak's original work ups the game, making this show one of 3-D Theatrical's best efforts to date.

The play harkens back to the day when productions were inventive, not merely a revival of a previously successful show. With the rising costs of large cast shows, it is a pleasure to see such a well produced and timely show made available in regional theaters for a growing audience. T. J. Dawson and company deserve kudos for tackling this play and casting it so well.