‘Gentleman’ and murder

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Murderers fascinate us— they are doing, perhaps, the most taboo thing in civilized society: taking away another person’s life. They exist outside of the standard human moral code; they have decided that those rules that bind the rest of us do not apply to them. We’d never want to be alone in a room with one, but I bet you’ve watched “Making a Murderer,” or seen “Silence of the Lambs.” They are scary and evil, but dammit if they aren’t interesting. Tony Award-winning “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” which closed at the Fox this past weekend, capitalizes on this captivation with murderers by making our “protagonist” (used loosely here) quite a successful one.

Montague (Monty) Navarro (Kevin Massey) recently lost his mother, a poor washerwoman who could just barely afford to care for Monty g r o w i n g up. He is just coming to the end of her funeral when an older woman appears, stating that she knew his late mother. Ms. Shingle (played by understudy Jennifer Smith the evening I attended) is her name, and shaking things up is her game for she comes bearing news: Monty’s mom, Isabella, was once an heiress, a member of the wealthy and powerful D’Ysquith family, disowned by her father for marrying a man from a lower class. With this information, and the revelation of his birth certificate, suddenly Monty is ninth in line for the Earldom of Highhurst. After reaching out to two different members of the D’Ysquith family, and being firmly denied in his wish to reconnect with the family by each, Monty’s course of action changes drastically. Eight people stand between Monty and the Earldom, and now, since their help could not be gained, these eight people must go.

Quirky songs structure the story, with each tune serving to move the plot along. In fact, the musical opens with a song titled “A Warning to the Audience”— clearly, this show is not for those easily frightened by comically bizarre deaths. After leaving the show, I heard one of its catchiest refrains, “Why Are All the D’Ysquiths Dying?” (honestly, they are all pretty catchy, but this one was the easiest for my feeble brain to remember), reverberating in my skull for maybe a solid three days. The entire cast sang these monstrously catchy songs with the utmost control and energy—I had to stop myself from trying to imitate them in the bathroom at intermission.

In an impressive display of talent, actor John Rapson played eight characters—all of them various members of the D’Ysquith family, with their own strange, and often unsettling , personalities. These D ’ Ysquiths ranged from a muscly major to a rather repulsive reverend, with a couple of frivolous females also in the mix. The number of costume changes Rapson had to go through must have been ridiculous and, heck, all of the characters’ voices were distinguishably different—how is that even possible to do? I can barely impersonate Christopher Walken, and even then I can only do it on Wednesdays if the wind is coming from the east and I also have a cold.

Though “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” has since left the Fox, please try to see it somewhere along its tour. It’s a show so morbidly entertaining, you forget that Monty really should be the bad guy. Instead, his charm and the charm of the show convince you that it’s really all for the best. Isn’t it? I’m sure that they had it coming and, after all, is murder really so very bad?