Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder
The plot is similar to the 1949 British film Kind Hearts and Coronets, which was based on a now-obscure 1907 novel called "Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal," by Roy Horniman. It's a clever premise/ An impoverished young man discovers that he comes from an aristocratic family, the D'Ysquiths (pronounced dice-quith). The only things standing between him and the earldom are the eight other family members who have a closer claim to the position. You can guess the rest of the story.
It may sound macabre, but the book by Robert L. Freedman makes it laugh-out-loud funny. The music by Steven Lutvak is not all that memorable, but the lyrics by Freedman and Lutvak make up for the lack of melody. It's not a fluke that it won Tony Awards in 2014 for Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical.
What makes the show extra delightful is that all eight of the doomed D'Ysquiths are played by the same actor. It is a gimmick similar to the one used in the stage version of The 39 Steps, in which three of the four actors play multiple roles, often changing costume in just a few seconds. It worked there and it works here. In the movie, Alec Guinness played the D'Ysquiths. The very entertaining David Stallings does the honors here, changing costumes, accents and genders in no time at all. A tour de force. Of course, a lot of credit also belongs to the costume designer (Erica Frank, assisted by Daniel Thobias), the wardrobe supervisor/dresser (Tristan Ikeda), and the wig and makeup designer (Jacqueline Chavez). I imagine the stage manager, Robert "Bobby" Peatman, is kept awfully busy.
The lead role of Monty D'Ysquith Navarro (his father was a Spaniard, which is why his mother was disinherited) is handled excellently by John Alejandro Jeffords. Tall, suave in a way, and with a good singing voice, you can see how he could charm two women into loving him at the same time and be willing to share him. One of them is Phoebe, also a D'Ysquith but not in the direct line of inheritance, and therefore safe. She is played by Ricki Carroll, who has an impressive high range and a congenial stage presence. The other is Sibella, who marries another man for money, but so what. It doesn't mean she has to give up Monty. Cara Juan plays her with seductiveness, fun facial expressions, and very good singing.
The ensemble members also get multiple roles and costume changes. They should all be mentioned: Andra Beatty, Bill Brooks, Sierra Jimenez, Dakotah Lopez, Patrick MacDonald, and Karen Gruber Ryan. The scenic and projections designer James W. Johnson makes agile use of the not very large stage, and the many scene changes flow effortlessly. Music director Stephen Anthony Elkins has assembled a small orchestra of five members (plus conductor Gretchen Amstutz) who sound like a much bigger group. It's too bad we never get to see them. They deserve a curtain call.
Rebecca Aparicio, the director, has brought together a fine cast and creative team and has elicited great work from all of them. A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder is a show that could run any time of year, but it's perfect for the long hot summer we've been having this year in New Mexico. I felt refreshed after seeing it, with the joy that comes from seeing really good live theater.
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder runs through August 12, 2023, at Santa Fe Playhouse, 142 E. De Vargas Street, Santa Fe NM. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30; Saturday matinees at 2:00. No shows on Sundays. For tickets and information, please visit santafeplayhouse.org.