A GENTLEMANS GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak (Mirvish). At Princess of Wales (300.
A GENTLEMANS 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 doesnt pay obviously hasnt seen the Tony Award-winning musical A Gentlemans 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 DYsquith family, and that in fact hes 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 DYsquiths (all played by John Rapson) in increasingly inventive ways: everything from ice skating accidents to death by a swarm of bees.
Meanwhile, as Montys social standing increases, the now-married Sibella suddenly becomes more interested in him, even though hes also drawn to his high-born relative, Phoebe (Adrienne Eller).
Robert L. Freedmans 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 cliche. The idea: if theyre annoying caricatures, we wont mind if theyre offed.
Darko Tresnjaks direction is superb, especially in the inventive death sequences performed on Alexander Dodges 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 Lutvaks music and lyrics are a delight, the former a pastiche of various period styles, the latter witty and charming when theyre 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 its Rapsons 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.