Sunday, February 10, 2019

Review of Porchlight Music Theatre's A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. The book and lyrics were by Robert L. Freedman and the music and lyrics were by Steven Lutvak. It was based on a novel by Roy Horniman. Direction was by Stephen Schellhardt, music direction was by Andra Velis Simon, and choreography was by Schellhardt and Aubrey Adams. It was about a man from a poor family named Monty (Andrés Enriquez) whose mother had recently passed away. He finds out from his mother's old friend, Miss Shingle (Caron Buinis), that he is part of the famous and wealthy D'Ysquith family. But even despite this life-changing discovery, Sibella (Emily Goldberg) would rather marry for money than love, even if Monty has a slight prospect of wealth on the horizon. So he decides to make his way to the earldom even quicker than Sibella could have killing all of his relatives in line for the title (all played by Matt Crowle). I think this play is outrageously funny, well-acted, and well written. I have a real love for this show and I was excited to see another production with a different take.

I really liked how the Monty was more sympathetic in this production than in the Broadway touring production. "Poison in My Pocket" shows his fear and guilt about killing these people, even though he might brush it away. I noticed more in this production how he was fighting for love which is the reason why he kills all these people--for the love of Phoebe (Ann Delaney) and Sibella. I feel that story was more prominent in this show rather than his own personal gain. I also noticed that Phoebe and Sibella both seem smarter than they did in the other production I saw, especially in the song "That Horrible Woman" where you get to see them manipulate, confuse, and prod people for answers, all for love, which is very similar to what Monty has done for them. It shows that they have some of the same evil genius qualities that Monty has. I thought that added an interesting extra layer to what could have been very basic traditional female characters.

Matt Crowle was very funny and portrayed each of the characters very differently but still kept the quirks that showed you they were part of the same family. One of my favorite characters in the D'Ysquith family was Henry. The song that he sings, "Better With a Man," has so many innuendos and the way that the character plays them off as the straightest encounter of all time, is simply hilarious. There was also this very grand number called "Lady Hyacinth Abroad" that was all about Monty's desperate attempts to kill this philanthropist by sending her to various dangerous countries in hopes of getting rid of her once and for all. But, sadly for Monty, she is very resilient--maybe a bit more resilient than her staff who seem to crumble under a lot of the pressure of living abroad. There is a song that perfectly encompasses the D'Ysquiths called "I Don't Understand the Poor." It is the first introduction we have to the D'Ysquiths and in talking about how inconsiderate the poor are--for being curious about what it is like to live large, being needy all the time, and suffering--he reveals himself to be a pompous ass. He also sings the entire song with a dead animal in his hands, which I think says a lot about him. Matt Crowle excelled in showing us a range of parts and personas, shifting quickly and effortlessly between them.

I usually really like large musicals in small spaces like Theo Ubique's Sweeney Todd or Kokandy's Heathers, or Porchlight's Gypsy. I really enjoyed this production, but I feel like the grand and farcical elements of the play were not as effective in this space because of the smaller scale it had to be on. This show is very funny and has a lot of great moments of physical humor, and many of them still work, like Adalbert D'Ysquith (Crowle) casually trying to put his leg up on a chair that was nowhere near his body multiple times. But the more farcical moments did not register for me, like in "I've Decided to Marry You," because of the lack of a door in that scene. A door captures the panic and indecision that Monty is going through, having one woman on one side of Monty and one on the other. That is more effective to me than one woman being down the hall from the other, especially because Monty had to walk away from each person in the middle of the conversation instead of bouncing back and forth through the door. That diffused the farcical tension of the scene for me. I also questioned the choice to have Reverend D'Ysquith (Crowle) walk off stage after his death. I understand that everything is comedic and not realistic in this show, but it is a lot more funny when the realism isn't completely broken.

People who would like this show are people who like resilient philanthropists, blatant innuendo, and heroic chair mishaps. I think people should see this show. I think this is a really funny show. It has lovely performances and a very clever script. It is a lot of fun and I enjoyed it.

Photos: Michael Courier

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