Murder isn’t funny – except when it’s hilarious.
No, I haven’t lost my marbles. I’m talking about “A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder” at The Old Globe, an import from (and co-production with) Hartford Stage, playing through April 14.
The Globe’s old friend Darko Tresnjak, now artistic director at Hartford Stage, returns to direct this rollicking, witty musical based on a 1907 book by Roy Horniman.
The culprit and titular gentleman is Montague D’Ysquith Navarro (Ken Barnett), aka Monty, who has led a life of relative penury until his dear departed mother’s friend Miss Shingle (Rachel Izen) arrives to tell him (well, sing to him) that he’s a member of the snooty D’Ysquith (pronounced DIE-squith) clan that disinherited his mother for breaking family protocol to marry a Castilian. She also mentions that “only eight other relations stand between you and the current head of the family.”
Perhaps spurred on by girlfriend Sibella (Lisa O’Hare), who wants to marry a man of means, Monty writes to the head of the clan in search of a job. When he is rudely rebuffed, his fit of pique drives him to another option: murder.
If this plot rings movie bells, it should: the novel was previously adapted for the 1949 classic film “Kind Hearts And Coronets,” in which Alec Guinness played the eight soon-to-die family members.
Local favorite (and UCSD-trained actor) Jefferson Mays runs himself ragged playing the eight doomed members of the clan (both male and female), with lickety-split costume changes and the sort of physical comedy that keeps him on the run and inspires the sort of endearing stage pictures for which Tresnjak is famous.
Mays and Barnett are surrounded by a terrific cast, most notably O’Hare and Chilina Kennedy, playing Phoebe D’Ysquith, the sister of one of Monty’s targets.
Kennedy was last seen at La Jolla Playhouse as Mary Magdalene in the revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
Alexander Dodge’s set is bright, almost jolly. The show is played in a frame-within-a-frame manner, an early 20th-century music-hall set plopped in the middle of the Old Globe stage, with space on either side allowing for some location changes.
This is physical, music-hall/vaudeville style theater, British in attitude, not especially subtle but played with such exquisite panache by all involved (but most particularly Mays and Barnett) that you can’t help but be carried along.
The music (by Steven Lutvak) and lyrics (by Lutvak and Robert L. Freedman, who also wrote the book) is largely in the Gilbert and Sullivan mode with rather more wicked lyrics. You’ll hear echoes of Oscar Wilde in the script, and with good reason: Horniman, the brother of one of Wilde’s boyfriends, was a member of Wilde’s circle of friends.
Kudos to the 12-person orchestra as well, and to orchestrator Jonathan Tunick, who re-scored it for an orchestra twice the size of the one used in Hartford.
Congratulations to Peggy Hickey as well, for her fine choreography.
Once in a while you see a show where all the elements work wonderfully. “A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder” is one of those. Don’t miss it.
“A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder” plays through April 14 at The Old Globe’s Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage.
Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.
Tickets: (619) 234-5623 or HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.