Singing and Satire: The Crazy World of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder”

FullSizeRenderWhat would you do if you discovered that eight distant relatives stood between you and an enormous fortune, as well as a seat of power?

Last Sunday as a belated Christmas present, my parents took my brother and me to see A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder at the Walter Kerr Theatre in New York City.  The show won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2014, and deservedly so.  It was a fabulous and absurd show, full of singing, silliness, and surprises.

The musical follows the journey of Monty Navarro, a poor, young man in the early 20th century as he discovers that his late mother was an heiress of the wealthy and powerful D’Ysquith family.  Because she married a supposedly wild, foreign musician, her family disowned her and flung her into poverty.  Monty, now an orphan, learns from a mysterious old friend of the family that he is related to the Earl of Highhurst; in fact, only eight relatives stand between Monty and the position.

As Monty writes down the story of his journey while in jail, the events of his life are reenacted on the stage.  After being denied contact with the Earl, Monty attempts to meet his other D’Ysquith relatives, starting with a frail, old priest.  When the priest mysteriously falls down the high tower of his church and dies, the audience is now “in on” Monty’s plan: to kill his way to the earldom of Highhurst.

What follows are ridiculous schemes involving poison, killer bees, beheadings, and ice skating accidents, all plotted by Monty.  Meanwhile, he finds himself caught between two love interests: the vibrant and vain Sibella Hallward, with whom he is having an affair, as she is married to a dull, rich man; and Phoebe D’Ysquith, a distant cousin who–fortunately for Monty– is not ahead of him in line for the seat of power.

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The height of the musical occurs in a musical number (which they performed at the Tony Awards) in which both women are in Monty’s home at the same time with only a set of doors between them.  The song is outlandish and hilarious, and the quick tempo displays the vocal talent of the three actors fantastically.

What really makes the show surpass others is its satire and dark humor.  Monty’s plotline mirrors that of J. Pierrepont Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying; much like Finch’s book, Monty’s memoirs guide the show, as Monty, like Finch, climbs to the top via a whole lot of foul play.  Whenever Monty has an idea, he turns toward the audience, breaking the fourth wall with a look that says, “I just had an idea!” or “You know what’s coming next.”  Similarly, whenever Finch reaches a goal from his book, he turns toward the audience and smiles as the spotlight shines on only him.

Mix together How to Succeed with The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, and you’ve got A Gentleman’s Guide.  Both A Gentleman’s Guide and The Importance of Being Earnest follow young, Victorian men through a series of wild coincidences and schemes with a tone of satire toward the upper class.  They each mix humor and wit into their respective genres (musical and comedy) and keep the audience laughing during the show and thinking long after.

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The most remarkable aspect of A Gentleman’s Guide, though, is the purely talented actors.  Jefferson Mays was nominated for a Tony award for his role as the D’Ysquith family.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Mays plays not one, but eight characters, each of the relatives Monty must rid himself of to acquire the earldom of Highhurst.  Mays is such a skilled comedian and unbelievably good at quick-changes.  He plays men and women, old people and young people, gay people and straight people, and is fantastic as each character.

Also nominated for his role in A Gentleman’s Guide, Bryce Pinkham plays Monty Navarro; he has perfect comedic timing and a tenor voice I can only describe as beautiful.  Likewise, Scarlett Strallen (Sibella) and Catherine Walker (Phoebe) have stunning mezzo-soprano and soprano voices, respectively.  The ensemble also perform skillfully in their character parts; my personal favorite is Joanna Glushak, who plays Lady Eugenia, the wife of the current Earl of Highhurst who partakes in a verbal fistfight with her husband at a dinner party.

Overall, the show is full of talented people who are obviously having as much fun as the audience is.  Unfortunately, the show closes on Broadway this Sunday, January 17th, but it is touring in the U.S. currently.  I’m so glad that I got to see the show before it closes, and I recommend it to anyone looking to see a whimsical musical in a city near them.  A Gentleman’s Guide is sure to make you laugh, smile, and wonder what you would do if you were filthy rich.  (Maybe if you just win the Powerball…)

Did you see A Gentleman’s Guide?  What did you think of it?  What good musicals have you seen lately?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!!

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