A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, takes place in London at the turn of the 20th century, and concerns the adventures of middle-class stockbroker Monty Navarro (Andrés Enriquez) — who, upon learning that his recently deceased mother was disinherited from the obscenely wealthy D’Ysquith family (all played by Matt Crowle), sets out to murder his relatives as revenge. And also so that he can, not uncoincidentally, become next in line to be the Earl of Highhurst.
The premise here is relatively straightforward and a bit dull; for me at least, the appeal of this show has always come from its macabre theatrics, extravagant slapstick comedy, verbal jousting worthy of Monty Python, and a Gilbert-and-Sullivan-esque score. Execution is key here, and the Porchlight team does not disappoint.
Director/choreographer Stephen Schellhart, as well as associate director and co-choreographer Aubrey Adams, have worked hard to keep the movement of the ensemble synchronized and precise. As a result, nearly all the jokes land with pinpoint grace. In addition, there are so many patter songs in this show that it is almost a patter musical — and music director Andra Velis Simon has clearly worked with the actors to keep enunciation at the forefront of their work while still allowing their natural singing voices to shine through.
Andrés Enriquez has an earnest and boyish energy as Monty Navarro; his tenor is lilting and just a little nasal, which gives his songs an uplifting feeling — and this makes it delightfully terrifying when his lyrics gain a hint of menace, and you see his face shift to become just a little scary. Enriquez does a lovely job threading the needle between charming, lovable protagonist and paranoid Macbethian antihero.
Matt Crowle is an excellent comedic presence as every single member of the D’Ysquith family. His prowess for acquiring laughs — and therefore providing the backbone of the show — should not be understated. However, I do wish he differentiated a bit more between his characters. As he flitted on and offstage as different zany personalities, I saw few significant changes in voice, posture, or energy, and as a result the zany personalities all blended into the same static presence. In fairness, playing the D’Ysquith family is a Herculean task for any actor, and I applaud Crowle merely for never collapsing in a winded heap on the floor.
Emily Goldberg as Sibella, Monty’s primary love interest, was utterly spellbinding — my theatregoing companion described her singing as “a voice you could swim in,” and I thought that was apt. Importantly, though, she achieves some of the best laughs in the show, through Sibella’s self-absorbed posturing and smile-riddled seduction.
She also has some of the best costumes; dresses and scarves and hats that become increasingly ridiculous throughout the show. Costume designer Jeff Hendry does a remarkable job here, not only tracking Monty’s rise through British society via the fineness of his clothes, but making a string of outfits for Matt Crowle that are removed and replaced offstage with astounding speed. Plus, multiple ensemble members require quick wig changes throughout — and while Edwardian wigs are hardly simple affairs, every wig looks impeccably realistic and well-styled.
The actors who make up the show’s ensemble also deserve a shout-out. The ensemble in Gentlemen’s Guide, in my opinion, has the best songs and the funniest gags, and they are clearly having oodles of fun. “Why Are All the D’Ysquiths Dying” in particular had me grinning ear to ear.
The ensemble interacts with the set in many creative ways throughout the show, the detachable aspects of which are the source of many hilarious gags. Set designer Angela Weber Miller weaves together two large wooden doors, a series of arches and windows, and furniture that seems to pop out of the walls, to create a space that remains unpredictable and goofy while still appropriately wooden, stuffy, and British.
But after all this, what does A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder have to say? Anything? There are some clever observations in here about the absurdity of wealth and greed — the D’Ysquith’s burning indifference to the lower classes, their self-absorbed obsession with blood purity, their racism. But these paradigms are present only to provide laughs and go mostly unexamined. This particular satire isn’t going to move any conversations forward or change anybody’s mind, as the best satire does — but you know what? I don’t mind too much. There is value in holding up a mirror to our society’s most ridiculous prejudices and laughing at them, and a little levity goes a long way nowadays. If you need a solid two hours of goofy British accents, designed purely to induce rib-cracking laughter, go see this show; you will be not be disappointed.
BIAS ALERT: I auditioned and was called back for this production last year. Andra Velis Simon is a mentor and friend.
Monty Navarro: Andrés Enriquez
Miss Shingle: Caron Buinis
Sibella Hallward: Emily Goldberg
The D’Ysquith Family: Matt Crowle
Tour Guide/Ensemble: Megan Elk
Miss Barley/Ensemble: Rachel Klippel
Tom Copley/Ensemble: William Dwyer
Phoebe D’Ysquith: Ann Delaney
Lady Eugenia/Ensemble: Sharriese Hamilton
Chief Inspector Pinckney/Ensemble: Michael Reyes
Magistrate/Ensemble: Ryan Dooley
Music – Steven Lutvak
Lyrics – Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak
Book – Robert L. Freedman
Direction & Choreography – Stephen Schellhardt
Associate Direction and Choreography – Aubrey Adams
Music Direction – Andra Velis Simon
Scenic Design – Angela Weber Miller
Costume Design – Jeff Hendry
Lighting Design – Denise Karczewski
Sound Design – Robert Hornbostel
Projection Design – Anthony Churchill
Properties Design – Mealah Heidenreich
Technical Director – Bek Lambrecht
Production Stage Manager – Mary Zanger
Production Manager – Cody Westgaard
Assistant to the Director – Noah Watkins
Musician Contractor – Linda Madonia
Photography by Michael Courrier