Regional Reviews: Phoenix
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder
Based on the 1907 novel "Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal" by Roy Horniman, the plot follows Monty Navarro, a poor and unemployed man in 1909 London who discovers that his recently deceased mother was actually a disinherited member of the influential and extremely wealthy D'Ysquith family who rebuffed her when she married for love and not money. When Monty finds himself rebuffed by the D'Ysquiths as well, and that only eight members of the family stand between him and the head of the dynasty, he does what any sensible man would do and sets out to murder everyone in his path so he can become Lord of the D'Ysquith family.
Robert L. Freedman's Tony-winning book is smart, sharp and fast-paced. Steven Lutvak's music features a range of musical styles that serve as an homage to old-fashioned British musicals and composers like Noël Coward and Gilbert & Sullivan, and the lyrics by Freedman and Lutvak are full of delicious double entendres and witty wordplay on par with Stephen Sondheim. The fun theatrical conceit the show uses is to have one actor play all of the members of the D'Ysquith family, both male and female, who stand between Monty and his goal. And while this isn't something completely new for the material, since Alec Guinness did the same thing in the film version of the novel, Kind Hearts and Coronets, it sure makes for a fun theatrical effect while also providing an abundance of kooky and eccentric roles for an actor to relish playing.
Nicholas Gunnell and Hector Coris are recreating the roles they performed in Fountain Hills Theater's production of the show in early 2020 (Gunnell as Monty and Coris as all of the members of the D'Ysquith family). Both were nominated for ariZoni Awards for Lead Actor in a Musical and their portrayals are even more comical and on point for this production. Gunnell's boyish charms, permanent wink in his eye and mischievous grin create a lovable character that you root to see succeed, which says a lot considering he's killing off people who didn't exactly do anything wrong. Gunnell's gorgeous singing voice soars on his many songs.
Coris is one of the best comic actors in town and it appears that he is relishing playing all of these comical roles. He also looks like he's having lots of fun with the fast-paced costume and wig changes, while also changing his body language and vocal delivery to make each character unique. It's truly a tour de force performance.
As Monty's two love interests, Sibella and Phoebe, Elizabeth Bridgewater and Ivana Martinic, respectively, shine. Bridgewater is deliciously humorous as the self-absorbed woman who loves Monty but won't marry him because he's poor, and Martinic is superb as a member of the D'Ysquith family that Monty falls for. Martinic's clear soprano voice is sensational. The romantic tug-of-war between the two women and Monty makes up most of the second act, including one of the show's best numbers, "I've Decided to Marry You," which Gunnell, Bridgewater, and Martinic deliver smashingly. Alex Aiken is appropriately daffy and deft as Miss Shingle, the woman who tells Monty the truth about his mother, and Hailee Haynes is fun as the nagging wife of one of Monty's relatives.
Director Shannon Noelle Green's staging makes good use of the expansive Scottsdale Community College Performing Arts Center stage, with one side of the proscenium space used for Monty's flat and the other for his prison cell, and the main space used for the many other locations in the show, which makes the scene changes swift. Green derives good comical performances from her entire cast. Kira Zeeman Rugen's music direction and conducting of the nine-piece orchestra are wonderful. Glen Sears' fun and creative set design uses various pieces and drops to depict the many scenes in the musical. The colorful and detailed costumes by Susan Krudenier and hair and make-up by Amber Ryan and Haiden Ruffino are character and period specific. Melissa S. Rex's lighting design uses color and shadows to add both comedy and suspense to the production. Jay LaBenne's sound design ensures that every lyric and line of dialogue is crisp and clear.
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder is witty, silly, and downright charming; Scottsdale Community College's production of this Tony-winning show is a rich musical-comedy treat to be savored.
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder runs through April 24, 2022, at Scottsdale Community College, 9000 E. Chaparral Road, Scottsdale AZ. For information and tickets, please visit https://www.scottsdalecc.edu/divisions/fine-arts/music/musical-theatre.
Music and Lyrics: Steven Lutvak
Cast: (in alphabetical order):