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Theatre Review: A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

A genuine musical romp, it’s easy to recommend an evening with charming Monty Navarro and the largely repellant D’Ysquith family, onstage through Sunday in the first-rate national tour of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder hosted by Broadway in Cincinnati. (And highly recommend it for mid-range tickets.)

Never heard of it? There’s a lot to be said for surprises – and certainly for this cunning, playful, laugh-out-loud-funny show. Especially when what you’re laughing out loud at are more and more bizarre murders.

It is turn-of-the-century London, so what better than a Victorian music hall stage, dressed with red velvet, gilt and statuary, on which to let the tale unfold?

Monty (Kevin Massey) is mourning the death of his beloved mum when her old friend comes to visit and tells him that mum’s dreadfully difficult life was the fault of the Earl of D’Ysquith, who disinherited her for running off and marrying – a Castilian.

And, by the by, Monty is ninth in line for the family title and fortune.

What’s a fellow to do? Murder most of the people standing in his way, all of them played with spot-on comic flair by John Rapson.

I’ll tell you how the murderous rampage begins, promising it gets funnier and funnier, thanks to brilliant use of computer-enhanced sight gags, farce, madly eccentric characters Gilbert and Sullivan would have loved (well, Gilbert anyway) – basically bringing a 21st century spirit and a wicked sense of sly humor.

Monty searches out the reverend in the family, who has a speech impediment, a center part and a definitely un-Christian view of Monty’s mum’s tragic life. There they are at the tippy-top of the Cathedral in a high wind and no barrier. (Did I mention the Rev tipples more than a bit?) Monty doesn’t so much kill the Rev as fail to save him. Picture a salute to Vertigo. With a cherry on top.

Let’s just say from that point forward Monty shows great imagination.

There’s time for a romantic triangle, with Monty torn between beautiful but cruel Sibella (Kristen Beth Williams) and lovely Phoebe D’Ysquith (Kristen Hahn), the only member of the family not played by Rapson.

It’s so much fun to see a production in which every piece is polished like a gem – direction, design, musical numbers, choreography, the tight ensemble and, of course Rapson and Massey who embrace the show’s high (and low) comic style.

(*Note: if you’e buying individual tickets to a touring show, it doesn’t hurt to plan in advance and check local discount sites like Goldstar, which currently has tickets to upcoming Something’s Rotten.)

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, through Jan. 8. Broadway in Cincinnati, Aronoff Center, 650 Walnut St., Downtown Cincinnati. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday. 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $30-$96 (plus ticket fee of $10.45- $13.70.) 513-621-2787 and www.cincinntiarts.com.

Reviewed by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts

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