>>> Review: A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder will slay you with laughter

Mirvish’s touring production of the Tony Award-winning musical is frivolous, frothy fun

A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak (Mirvish). At Princess of Wales (300 King West). Runs to June 26. $35-$130. 416-872-1212.  Rating: NNNN

Whoever coined the phrase “crime doesn’t pay” obviously hasn’t seen the Tony Award-winning musical A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder, a very entertaining endorsement of dastardly deeds.

In 1907 England, when the poor but honourable Monty Navarro (Kevin Massey) buries his mother, he discovers that she had been disowned years earlier by the aristocratic D’Ysquith family, and that in fact he’s ninth in line to inherit the earldom.

When his attempts to reach out to his well-connected relatives for employment fail, and prodded by his social-climbing girlfriend, Sibella (Kristen Beth Williams), Monty embarks on a plan to kill the various D’Ysquiths (all played by John Rapson) in increasingly inventive ways: everything from ice skating accidents to death by a swarm of bees.

Meanwhile, as Monty’s social standing increases, the now-married Sibella suddenly becomes more interested in him, even though he’s also drawn to his high-born relative, Phoebe (Adrienne Eller).

Robert L. Freedman’s clever book – inspired by the same source as the Alec Guinness comedy Kind Hearts And Coronets – takes darkly funny swipes at every British upper class cliché. The idea: if they’re annoying caricatures, we won’t mind if they’re offed.

Darko Tresnjak’s direction is superb, especially in the inventive death sequences performed on Alexander Dodge’s whimsical, music-hall-style sets, and in the act two show-stopper, an impeccably timed door-slamming farce in which Monty is entertaining both girlfriends in separate rooms.

Steven Lutvak’s music and lyrics are a delight, the former a pastiche of various period styles, the latter witty and charming – when they’re heard. (The balance between orchestra and singers was off during the performance I saw.)

The fine-boned, sweet-voiced Massey manages to be dashing and likeable even as a killer, while Williams and Eller provide terrific contrasting turns as his girlfriends. The ensemble does lots of heavy lifting in a variety of scenarios.

But it’s Rapson’s gallery of twits, snobs and, in one scenery-chewing set piece, a politically incorrect female philanthropist that gets the biggest ovation, especially since the actor must often change costume and character in seconds.

This is the funniest musical to play the Princess of Wales since The Book Of Mormon.

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