Currently playing at the Overture Center for the Arts, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” makes serial killings comical and classy. Not since “Sweeney Todd,” has murder been so popular on stage.
In 2015, “A Gentleman’s Guide” won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and it continues to delight audiences years later. Though this musical is technically about a serial killer intent on murdering his way to the top of the social ladder, “A Gentleman’s Guide” is anything but sinister.
Roguish Monty Navarro (Blake Price), the aforementioned serial killer, certainly doesn’t see himself as such. On the day of his mother’s funeral, a delightful old lady, Miss Shingle (Kristen Kane), informs him that his mother was not merely a poor, single mother, but an heiress from one of England’s most posh families. In Monty’s mind, he must avenge his beloved mother, who was cast out of illustrious D’Ysquith family and stripped of her money and dignity, all because she dared to fall in love with a Castilian.
To add to the motivation to smite all his newfound relatives, Monty’s unrequited love, Sibella (Colleen McLaughlin) becomes much more keen on him once he has access to money, power and a castle. The plot thickens as Monty develops feelings for his adorable cousin, Phoebe D’Ysquith, who is played by the operatic powerhouse, Erin McIntyre. Trapped between the affections of two wildly different women, Monty’s sins catch up to him as the women angrily discover each other and the police begin to suspect that Monty’s sudden catapult to social success is a little suspicious.
Monty’s murderous methods are more creative than a mere well-aimed gun shot. He rids himself of the distasteful D’Ysquiths by encouraging their bizarre habits and then being conveniently unable to help his estranged cousins when things get out of hand. Causes of death include being stung to death by bees, being decapitated by a barbell and accidentally shooting oneself in the head. The D’Ysquith family aren’t exactly a sympathetic bunch, so you’re much more likely to have tears in your eyes from laughing than from actually mourning their untimely deaths.
And who plays all of Monty’s outlandish cousins? Only one man: James Taylor Odom.
Odom is undaunted onstage and slips in and out of each D’Ysquith character —whether male or female — with ease. Each character has a distinct voice, walk and mannerism that makes the audience laugh out loud every time, no matter what grisly thing has “mysteriously” caused his latest character to kick the bucket.
The set, designed by Alexander Dodge, also contributes well to the story. The giant LED screen against the back wall can give the impression of climbing up a church tower or ice cracking on a lake. There is a second Victorian style stage upon the proscenium, where we watch Monty’s and the D’Ysquiths wicked antics unfold.
Musically, “A Gentleman’s Guide” is whimsical and its voices are impressive. The leading ladies, Sibella and Phoebe, both are gorgeous sopranos and when Blake Price’s strong tenor is added to the mix, the trio is magnificent. The lyrics are sophisticated, clever and quick, requiring the most precise diction imaginable. Lucky for the audience, the cast never misses a consonant. However, “A Gentleman’s Guide” doesn’t have its own “Defying Gravity” moment. Each number is individually good, but there isn’t that one show-stopping song that makes you cry or believe in love again.
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” will be running at the Overture until Oct. 8.