September 9, 2019 - Des Moines Community Playhouse
Love and murder liberally liven up this musical gem
By John Busbee for The Culture Buzz
Who knew that a variety of murder and mayhem could be so absolutely, laugh-out-loud funny? The laughs were as fast and furious as the costume changes in this nonstop musical theatre seduction. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder is a destination-worthy live theatrical experience that will leave the cultural adventurer chattering about its madcap mix of Marx Brothers pacing and Machiavellian conniving well beyond its closing date September 29.
Not wanting to give their thousands of loyal patrons a let-down following an exceptional centennial year of theatre, the Des Moines Playhouse begins their second century with a rousing, absolutely delightful musical. With a solid script and engaging score, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder enchanted the audience from its rousing opening number through to its cheeky, riotous conclusion.
This is a four-time Tony Award-winning musical comedy, with the book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman and the music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak. From its opening, tongue-in-cheek choral warning to the audience, it quickly launches into the “aha” (when Monty Navarro discovers his true ancestry) to how he can achieve his destiny, whether by chance or by design. This show delights throughout its wild journey, as the newly-informed Monty begins his devious journey that perhaps doesn’t quite go as anticipated.
Under the direction of Playhouse veteran John Viars, this show is focused, beautifully stylized and delivered with a masterful consistency. Blending elements of Stephen Sondheim with Gilbert & Sullivan, the bounty of lyrics are delivered crisply by each performer and the various ensembles singing them. Music director Brenton Brown deserves special praise for pulling such impeccable lyrics and spot-on musicality from this very talented cast.
Zachary Dean Smith is a stellar anchor as Monty Navarro from the curtain’s rise. With a marvelous air of impeccability, Gina Gedler captivates as the unforgettable Miss Shingle, the first of many memorable leading players. With a perky self-involvement, Sibella (with angel-voiced perfection) coyly manipulates the smitten Monty. Another love interest pops into the story as Phoebe D’Ysquith (given sultry, rich-voiced allure by Courtney Kayser), complicates plans. Masterfully connecting the story dots is the chameleon-like comic genius of Brett Spahr, who plays the ill-fated D’Ysquith family members – yes, all of them – separating Monty from his goal. Add the incredibly gifted and adroit ensemble filling a plethora of characters and scenes, and this production is about as marvelous and fulfilling a performance as one could hope to experience. Each cast member shines, cameo parts to leading roles.
One of the musical highlights was early in Act Two when the trio of Monty and his two loves, Sibella and Phoebe, bring the audience to roaring applause. “I’ve Decided to Marry You” is a rousing rapid-fire farcical number that showcased these performers’ voices, acting chops and physical timing.
The production team truly elevates this show into its magical success. Choreographer Alison Shafer paints the stage with excellent movement. Scenic designer Nicholas Amundson, lighting designer David R. Kilpatrick and sound designer Brandon Kair create theatrical wonder with their video and audio talents. Costume designer Angela Lampe captures the post-Victorian elegance brilliantly, even with the lightning quick changes.
There were moments, however, when the lighting cues missed their mark, jostling the audience out of the show’s wonderful spell. A key moment or actor out of light diminishes that scene. A correctable aspect, though.
If you like experiencing exceptional production values in a show, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder is your ticket. Get excited about what is being produced locally, and get ready to escape for a couple of uproarious hours of performing arts wonder by booking your tickets for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder. This show truly is to die for…but, let the actors do the dying. You will simply die laughing.
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