Sneak Peek by Alan Jozwiak of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”: Broadway Series at Aronoff Center
Killing off eight relatives who are in line for your inheritance might sound like the subject of a particular graphic episode of Dateline. Instead, this scenario is the basis of the latest comedic Broadway musical coming next to the Aronoff Center for the Arts as part of the Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati 16/17 Season presented by TriHealth — A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.
The musical was created by two graduates of the NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, Robert L. Freedman (book and lyrics) and Steven Lutvak (music and lyrics).
When it made its appearance on Broadway, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder went onto win four Tony Awards, including the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical, as well as the 2014 Best Musical prizes from the Drama League, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.
Gentleman’s Guide tells the story of a penniless young man named Monty Navarro, who discovers that he is the ninth in line to become the Earl of Highhurst. Since the aristocratic family, the D’Ysquiths, disinherited his deceased mother and treated her terribly, Monty decides to get even by killing off each of his relatives in line for the title, one by one, in outrageously amusing ways. In order to reach his goal, this underdog antihero also ends up courting two women at the same time.
This seemingly serious plot is played for camp within the musical. Care was taken with Monty’s characters, as creator Robert Freedman explains about Monty: “He’s an underdog. Not only did he grow up poor, but he was denied the kind of life that he should have been born into and should’ve had. I think there’s a bit of fantasy or wish fulfillment, in seeing him be able to get revenge on the people who made it impossible for him to advance in the world.”
Another way the production pokes fun of the seriousness of the situation is by having one actor play all the D’Ysquiths. “If you have a talented actor getting killed over and over again,” says the Broadway director Darko Tresnjak, “then each murder is a reward, because he’s going to come back as another delightful characterization.” Apart from the campy fun that one actor brings, the lone actor can also explore more fully the range of the D’Yquiths’ arrogance. This makes the audience secretly cheer when each of them gets his or her comeuppance.
A final interesting element to the musical is the staging and music. There’s a toy stage inside a larger proscenium, which constantly opens to reveal new two-dimensional settings for the murders (a parish church, a frozen lake, a garden, etc.). This staging is somewhat reminiscent of another throwback musical of recent years, The Drowsy Chaperone. Drawing on Gilbert and Sullivan and the English music hall tradition, composer Lutvak sums up the musical by saying “what we are, in a way, is a very low comedy in a very fancy box. There’s all that faux classical music and it’s all very proper. . .but, in reality, it’s a low comedy; it’s a Bert Lahr, laugh-your-ass-off comedy.”
So there you have it—a throwback musical comedy that takes its inspiration from several classical sources to create a delightful Tony Award-winning musical experience. You only have one week to catch this wonderful musical. It runs from January 3-8, 2017 at the Aronoff Center for the Arts. Tickets for this show can be purchased from the Aronoff Center Box Office downtown at 650 Walnut Street, online at CincinnatiArts.org or by phone at 513.621.ARTS.