By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle
The 2014 multi-Tony winning musical, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, played at The Bushnell’s Mortensen Hall as part of the 2016-2017 Bushnell Broadway Series this week. The show originated at Hartford Stage under the supervision of Tony-winning director Darko Tresnjak. The Broadway hit on tour marked a special milestone for producers and investors –the October 25 opening night in Hartford marked the full recuperation of the shows’ original investment. Quite a cause for celebration.
A Gentleman’s Guide tells the uproarious story of Monty Navarro (played with charmingly delicious malice by Kevin Massey) a man of modest means, who discovers that he is a distant heir to a family fortune. He sets out to jump the line of succession, heir by heir, and by any means necessary. He winds up juggling two women – his status-seeking, money-mad mistress Sibella (Kristen Beth Williams) and his cousin, who is also his fiancée (Kristen Hahn), and at the same time stays just this side of the law as he knocks off one relative after the other (all played with over-the-top insanity by chameleon-like John Rapson). In the end, he becomes lord of the manor, the Earl who gets the girl. Or does he?
Jennifer Smith, who plays Miss Shingle, reprises her madcap role from the original company of the show, and yet another Kristen, this time Kristen Menglekoch, gives a delightfully batty performance as Lady Eugenia.
Darko Tresnjak’s direction proves that he understands exactly what the public wants. The entire cast flows on and off the stage flawlessly, and with so much zany action going on, he never fails to get everything out of each
actor’s performance. It’s a slapstick, baggy pants, British music-hall romp that keeps the audience in stitches from beginning to end.
A hallmark of Mr. Tresnjak’s vision has become unique projections design, as evidenced by his recent Hartford Stage original productions of Rear Window and Broadway-bound Anastasia. Aaron Rhyne’s projection design for A Gentleman’s Guide had the audience gasping with delight one minute and laughing hysterically the next. And Alexander Dodge’s scenic design is stunningly gorgeous – a Victorian Theater onstage surrounded by the Art Deco design of the Bushnell auditorium. Philip S. Rosenberg’s lighting design ties both the real and imagined theaters together with dazzling illumination.
A Gentleman’s Guide features a book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman and music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak. The music is melodious and the lyrics are totally designed to move the story along. Light hearted and comic choreography by Peggy Hickey enhances the music and lyrics. Linda Cho won the Tony Award for her Costume Design and Dan Moses Schreier (Sound Design), Brian Strumwasser (Make-Up Design), and Charles LaPointe (Wig Design) round out the creative team. Orchestrations are by Jonathan Tunick and vocal arrangements are by Dianne Adams McDowell and Steven Lutvak. Paul Staroba serves as Music Supervisor.
The most celebrated musical of the 2013-14 Broadway season, A Gentleman’s Guide received ten 2014 Tony Award nominations, eventually winning four awards: Best Musical, Direction of a Musical, Book of a Musical, and Best Costume Design. In addition, it won the Best Musical prizes from the Drama League, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle, and received a 2015 Grammy Award nomination for Best Musical Show Album.
The only critique as we left the theater was that we missed a good deal of the Gilbert and Sullivan-paced lyrics, and much of the rapidly spoken dialogue was also hard to hear. Too much treble? Not enough bass? As often happens when shows are on the road, there is limited time to check and double-check the variety of technical aspects in so many theaters across the country.
With director Darko Tresnjak in the opening night audience, we’re confident that by the second performance in Hartford the gentlemen (and ladies) in the sound booth and lighting board had tweaked the misguided equipment so that perfection was achieved.
If you missed A Gentleman’s Guide in Hartford, go to www.agentlemansguidebroadway.com to discover when the tour is coming to a city near you. It will be worth every shilling, pence and pound of the ticket price to see such a dazzling and delightful musical.
Tickets and information about future shows and events are available online at www.bushnell.org, by phone at 860-987-5900, or at The Bushnell box office, 166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford.