This musical has a bunch of wickedly subversive undercurrents that belies its fastidious Edwardian trappings, making it much more to my personal taste than, say, Edwin Drood. The most obvious undercurrent is right there in the title – how to be gentlemanly when pursuing serial murder – but there are others, including gay seduction in the countryside and women sharing a man. Fun stuff!
Based on the 1907 novel Israel Rank (which was also adapted into the 1949 British film Kind Hearts and Coronets), A Gentleman’s Guide follows Monty Navarro, near-penniless at show’s beginning. He discovers that his late mother was disinherited by the rich and titled D’Ysquith family, making him ninth in line to an earldom. After unsuccessfully trying to ingratiate himself honestly into the family, he decides to gain the family fortune by more devious and lethal means.
In order for this kind of story to be comically effective, you need an immensely appealing person in the role of Monty, and luckily the handsome, soulful and winsome Bryce Pinkham fits the bill. Equally, his targets need to be sufficiently odious for us to want to see them go. This is by far the more enjoyable assignment of the two, and the versatile Jefferson Mays plays all eight of his victims at full bore with manic glee.
Steven Lutvak’s score is musically zesty, and the lyrics are clever and have wonderful flow, even if none of the songs are instantly memorable. Director Darko Tresnjak makes his Broadway debut with this production, and does so with real panache and brio. Among the original book musicals on Broadway so far this season, A Gentleman’s Guide is the first one I would deem an unqualified artistic success, and I recommend it highly.
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