Before a series of murderous vignettes occur, a perfectly cast ensemble, dressed in funereal Edward Gorey style costumes, warn you “if you’re smart, before we start, you’d best depart”. But if you’re fortunate enough to snare a ticket to “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” you’ll stay anchored in your seat because you are in for a hysterical and very lively musical production at the Porchlight Theater in Chicago.
Based on Roy Horniman’s 1907 novel and the Alec Guinness film “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” this 2014 Tony Award winner unfolds the story of one penniless Monte Navarro. Visited by a mysterious Miss Shingle shortly after the death of his mother, Monte learns that he is the heir to the D’Ysquith family fortune.
His mother, it seems was disinherited, disowned, and treated quite abysmally by the D’Ysquiths all because she fell in love with “a Castillian”-and oh, the horror, it gets worse-“who was a musician”. There is a slight problem; eight high bred, stuffed shirt snobs are in the line of succession before Monte. So...what’s a poor fellow with ambition to do? But don’t worry, those eight are so cleverly and hilariously dispatched, you won’t feel a bit of remorse or pity.
In a well paced production, brilliantly directed by Stephen Schellhardt, actor Matt Crowle portrays all eight members of the D’Ysquith hierarchy with distinction and delicious comedic timing. Crowle sings, dances, rides a bike, romps, and rolls his eyes to music-just a few of his mighty talents. Watch out for Reverend D’Ysquith’s demise and Asquith Jr.’s skating debacle and you’re a Crowle fan!
Actor Andre Enriquez as Monte, is a vibrant, suave leading man; his character development from an innocent, reliable gentleman to a calculated merry dispatcher of murders most foul is laudable. And as you've probably guessed, he climbs his way up the family fortune line with a slight twist at the end. Enriquez and Crowle are the balanced, well-matched duet that makes this musical a tour de force.
And let’s discuss that ensemble. They sing exquisitely accompanied by an unseen live orchestra conducted by Andra Velis Simon, they dance marvelously and they look beautiful in their lush Edwardian costumes designed by Jeff Hendry. Particular mention must be made of energetic nightingales Emily Goldberg (Sibella), Ann Delaney (Phoebe), and Sharriese Hamilton (Countess). This ensemble is stellar.
With book by Robert Freedman and music by Steven Lutvak, “A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder” is a mini operetta in the style of the English music hall. Porchlight does have a limited stage space, but the witty, tongue in cheek set design by Angela Weber Miller involves pieces that come on and off and doors that open and close smoothly.
The set is logically and greatly enhanced by projections ( everything from castles to the family tree) designed by Anthony Churchill. There are sight gags, double entendre references, and quick head spinning changes. But like a very good cup of English tea, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is a musical to savor and enjoy.
• Regina Belt-Daniels is a happily working actress and director. A retired Crystal Lake District 47 Special Educator and former Raue Center for the Arts Board member, she currently serves on the boards of It’s Showtime Huntley and Right-Center-Left Production Co. She also was a 2018 Woman of Distinction.
If you go
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
Two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission
Through March 16
Ruth Page Center for the Arts
1016 N. Dearborn, Chicago