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A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder KILLS at the Aronoff Center

Review by Spenser Smith of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder: Cincinnati Broadway Series

After winning the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical, Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder sets out on tour to tell the uproarious story of Monty Navarro, a distant heir to a family fortune who sets out to jump the line of succession, by any means necessary. All the while, he’s got to juggle his mistress (she’s after more than just love), his fiancée (she’s his cousin but who’s keeping track?), and the constant threat of landing behind bars! Of course, it will all be worth it if he can slay his way to his inheritance…and be done in time for tea.

Kevin Massey plays Monty, who narrates his story throughout. Once he realizes there are only seven people between him and a family fortune, he will stop at nothing on his climb to the top. His charm and wit are infectious and his voice angelic… and we’re talking about a murderer here. The eight family members who meet their untimely demise are played hysterically by John Rapson. Those quick changes as he transitions from one character to the next are wicked fast and like the scene changes throughout, are seamless. Engaged love interest Sibella Hallward (Kristen Beth Williams) and cousin Phoebe (Kristen Hahn) have the pleasure of singing the evening’s most memorable songs and wearing the best of Linda Cho’s gorgeous Tony Award winning costumes. Other notable performances include Mary VanArsdel as the cheeky Miss Shingle and Kristen Mengelkoch (twin sister of Cincinnati favorite Kelly Mengelkoch) who steals the better half of Act 2 with her snarky Lady Eugenia.

Smart and efficient direction by Darko Tresnjak make the almost 90-minute first half go by in a flash. The same can be said of the scenic design by Alexander Dodge. The actors are on, in and around the stage within the stage. The simple design aided in the many different settings and smoothed transitions to perfection. Although I’m afraid the music isn’t very hummable, it was refreshing to hear a rousing score full of classical singing in this age of pop-heavy musicals.

Gentleman’s Guide continues at the Aronoff Center through January 8.

For tickets, visit the box office located at 650 Walnut Street , call 513-621-2787 [ARTS] or you can order online at

Broadway Series Gives a “Guilty Pleasure” to Audiences of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

Review by Alan Jozwiak of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder: Broadway in Cincinnati

They are the sorts of things you know you should not enjoy, but do so anyway—such as a high calorie chocolate confection, a cigarette, or that big fat greasy hamburger. The same can hold true as well for musicals, as witnessed by Broadway in Cincinnati’s Presentation of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.

A Gentleman’s Guide tells the story of Monty Navarro (Kevin Massey), who learns upon the death of his mother that he is ninth in line to be Earl of Highhurst. With plenty of pluck and ambition, Monty sets out to claim his inheritance by killing off each and every member of the D’Ysquith (pronounced die-squith) line so as to become Earl. Along the way, he also woos two women at the same time.

Now this scenario sounds like a recipe for disaster, but in the skillful hands of the musical’s creators, they create a guilty pleasure of a musical where we as the audience actually root for Monty as he works to attain his title. We also laugh at the ways at which the petty and arrogant members of the D’Ysquith family (all played wonderfully by John Rapson) meet their untimely ends.

Created by Robert L. Freedman (book and lyrics) and Steven Lutvak (music and lyrics), A Gentleman’s Guide went onto earn four Tony Awards, including the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical.

The touring production of this musical has a strong cast with plenty of singing power. A standout was the Kevin Massey, who played the lead Monty Navarro. Massey was able to mix equal parts ambition, guile, and charm into the role of Monty Navarro. A murderous precursor to J. Pierrepont Finch from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Massey is wonderful in such songs as “I’ve Decided to Marry You.” In this number, Massey has to both sing and engage in slapstick antics trying to keep the two women he is wooing, Sibella (Kristen Beth Williams) and Phoebe (Kristen Hahn), from discovering that each is in an adjoining room.

The actresses playing Sibella and Phoebe also do a wonderful job at the end of Act II in the song “That Horrible Woman,” where each tries to convince authorities that the other is responsible for a murder of a D’Ysquith family member. Beautifully sung by Kristen Beth Williams and Kristen Hahn, this number highlights the differences between each woman, as well as what attracts them to Monty.

Stealing the show was John Rapson, who played all the D’Ysquith family members. Having one actor playing multiple roles could be problematic, but Rapson pulls it off beautifully by being, at turns, eccentric (the Reverend Lord Ezekial D’Ysquith), self-absorbed (Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith), or arrogant (Asquith D’Ysquith, Jr.). Willing to play both male and female roles, Rapson creates distinct characters for each of the D’Ysquiths and makes their foibles laughable.

The final star of the show is the set, which is really a jewel box stage with its own proscenium and the ability to move its stage floor forward towards to the audience when interior scenes occur. Different parts of the stage can also open up for actors to pop out and address the audience. The proscenium was done up in a late 19th century grandeur, making it all the more fun when an actor unexpectantly uses the set in interesting ways.

In short, this was a beautiful production that did not have any false notes. It is an example of some of the best of what is going the current Broadway musicals, as well as what fine touring shows can offer Cincinnati audiences.

Unfortunately, this musical is a season option, meaning that it is only going to be in town for one week, from January 3-8, 2017. This is a must-see for anyone who loves musicals or wants to have a good time at the theatre.

For more information on tickets, you can visit the Aronoff Center Box Office downtown at 650 Walnut Street, go online at, or buy through the phone at 513.621.ARTS.

Broadway in Cincinnati’s Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder is an Heir-Raising Experience

Review by Sheldon Polonsky of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder: Broadway in Cincinnati

Kristen Beth Williams, Kevin Massey,and Kristen Hahn in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, now playing at the Aronoff Center as part of the Broadway in Cincinnati series, opens with a warning to the audience delivered by a Sweeney Todd-esque chorus: “So if you’re smart, before we start, you’d best depart…For God’s sake go!” Luckily, none of the packed house at the Aronoff heeded the warning, and instead enjoyed a side-splitting romp of a show that won Tony Awards in 2014 for best musical, book and director. My warning to you is the opposite: get your tickets now and don’t miss out on the fun.

A Gentleman’s Guide centers around Monty Navarro (Kevin Massey), a mild mannered Londoner who, on the eve of his mother’s death, discovers that he is ninth in line to inherit the earldom of Highhurst from the rich and powerful D’Ysquith family, who heartlessly disinherited his mother after she eloped with a Castilian musician and left her and her son to live in abject poverty. Of course he sets out to do, as his mistress says later, “what any of us would do”: bump them off one by one to move up in line. He does so using blithely ingenious methods, with the talented John Rapson portraying each of the doomed heirs broadly and uproariously, featuring the addled Reverend Lord Ezekial D’Ysquith, effeminate Henry D’Ysguith, and the desperately philanthropic matron Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith, among others. To give any details of their deaths would be a crime, but trust that they are all depicted in eye-popping and rollicking fashion. All the while, Monty must juggle his romantic relationship with his beautiful mistress, Sibella (Kristen Beth Williams) and his earnestly attractive cousin, Phoebe D’Ysquith (Kristen Hahn). It is called A Gentleman’s Guide to LOVE &Murder, after all.

The great charm of watching A Gentleman’s Guide is its awareness of its own theatricality and its debt to a long heritage of musical theatre. Steven Lutvak, who wrote the music and lyrics, and Robert L. Freedman, who wrote the book and lyrics, pay deliberate homage to, among others, Gilbert and Sullivan, Lerner and Lowe, Me and My Girl, and the aforementioned Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd (with the added benefit that unlike Sondheim, the uninitiated can actually discern most of the clever lyrics on the first go-around). Most of the action takes place on a stage within the stage, which seems like it could be limiting but actually appears quite expansive thanks to vibrant and technically impressive projections behind it. The show never takes itself too seriously and rarely lags in energy or pacing.

Sometimes when a show sparkles with a witty plot and production values, the contributions of the cast are left behind, but this should not be the case here. Rapson, who rightfully gets top billing as all the D’Ysquith heirs, is indefatigable and commanding. Also, if they gave a Tony award to backstage wardrobe assistants, his would surely have won for his seamlessly rapid changes. Massey’s portrayal of Monty is ingratiating and captivating, and easily overcomes any moral squeamishness in the audience to root for the amiable serial killer. Finally, both Williams and Hahn both shine as Monty’s love interests and we can understand his difficulty in choosing between them. The entire cast, including the chorus, have impeccable stage presence and vocals.

If I have any reservations about the play, it would be that the second half lets the “heir” out of the balloon a bit compared to the first. With such a clever premise, and most of Rapson’s D’Ysquiths dispatched, the writers seem to struggle with how to wrap it up, and some of the numbers after the intermission seem to be more filler than anything else (although a few, like “Why Are All the D’Ysquiths Dying” and “I’ve Decided to Marry You” still stand on their own merits.) The surprise twist at the end is not quite surprising or inventive enough to deliver the payoff that I would like. Still, by the time the second half rolls around, you are invested enough in Monty’s story, and that of his paramours, that the let-down hardly dampens your overall enthusiasm.

A Gentleman’s Guide rightly got the acclaim it did on Broadway and will prove to be a winning night of theatre for even your most finnicky family member. It only runs through January 8th, so I would get your tickets soon by calling the box office at 513-621-2787 or online at Otherwise, like the D’Ysquiths, they will soon be “heir today, gone tomorrow”.

Know/OTRimprov’s Naughty List is Anything But Ho-Ho-Hum for the Holidays

Review by Sheldon Polonsky of The Naughty List: Know Theatre/OTRimprov

According to the comedy streaming app, Cincinnati is the United States’ least funny city. But whoever compiled list certainly didn’t check it twice, and certainly hasn’t visited one of Cincinnati’s premier improve troupes, OTRimprov, or its annual hoilday show, The Naughty List, co-produced with the Know Theatre and presented at Arnold’s Bar and Grill on 8th St. downtown.

If you aren’t familiar with the improv format, think back to the hilarious Drew Carey show, “Who’s Line is It Anyway” from a few years back. In the same vein, The Naughty List is chock full of skits and games all created on the spot based on audience suggestions by the agile and fertile imaginations of the cast (5 of the 7 members of the OTRimprov group on any given night, who include Dave Powell, Mike Hall, Sean P. Metter, Alanna Turner-Palmer, Erin Ward, and Charlie Roetting). The cast is as quick and adept at improvisation as any I have seen and clearly have a love for the art form and great joy in sharing it with the audience and each other. The first half of the show was more standard improv fare with some holiday themed twists, including Mad-libbed letters to Santa, a hilarious guessing game where the CEO of a company had to guess the circumstances of a recent recall (SmartPhones made of Laffy-taffy that cause children to become smart-asses) and a series of sketches growing from one random premise. The second half was a frenetic retelling of a classic holiday movie, in our case “Home Alone” told in Epic Adventure style.

Improv is not easy, and though there are always bumps in the road OTRimprov’s congenial style was always engaging and amusing. Arnold’s intimate setting is a perfect match for such a production and the audience always feels close to the performers. Plus, you get wonderful comfort food while you enjoy the show. My only quibble about Arnold’s this time of year was the difficulty maintaining a comfortable temperature. When we came in, the heaters up full blast were a little stifling but when they were turned down later it got very cold instead–so keep a few layers handy so you can adjust.

My only constructive suggestions for improvement in the show would be that some of the bits ran a little long and started to wear down and get a little repetitive–maybe present a few more skits or games each a little shorter. Also, I have seen improv troupes sprinkle in a few pre-written skits in between the improvisation to give the audience a breather and guarantee some consistent material in the case of a blander audience. That said, whatever happens, you won’t be disappointed, as OTRimprov is clearly skilled at their craft. I know the holidays are a busy time but if you want to take a break, be entertained, and are tired of Dickens and Tchaikovsky, give The Naughty List a try. There’s no lump of coal here.

The Naughty List is presented Monday through Wednesdays December 12-26. Be aware that language or sexual themes may be inappropriate for younger children. Seating and dinner service is between 6-7 pm, with the show beginning around 7:30. Tickets are available through the Know Theater,

Know/OTRimprov’s Naughty List Nice Enough to Check Twice

Review by Liz Eichler of The Naughty List: Know Theatre/OTRimprov

The Naughty List is a jolly, live, unpredictable, interactive holiday experience your friends and family will thoroughly enjoy, as long as your friends and family are over 18, not easily offended and enjoy humor. My family sure does! Monday night’s performance was a blast, especially for my husband and 19 year old sons who had a great time offering suggestions to the performers, laughing when someone else made the same suggestion, and laughing harder when it worked.

This is the fifth season the show is being produced by Know Theatre and OTRimprov, at Arnold’s Bar and Grille, Monday through Wednesdays December 12-26. Seating and dinner service is between 6-7 pm, with the show beginning at 7:30. (We recommend the excellent chicken and waffles and applaud the attentive wait staff, as well.)

There is a cast of 5, out of a potential group of 7 OTRi regulars: Dave Powell, Mike Hall, Sean P. Mette, Alanna Turner-Palmer,Erin Ward, Charlie Roetting and Jordan Trovillion. Each performer is witty and clever, with a wide range of pop culture references available in their sack of comic goodies. The first half of the show Monday night was short form, full of familiar improv games with a holiday twist and great audience suggestions. The second half was long form, a retelling of a Holiday Classic film. In our case “Diehard” was suggested by the audience and the group flew away with it, like the down of a thistle, creating an improvised mashup with the “epic adventure” genre. (My son explained, there are two kinds of people, those who think “Diehard” is a Christmas movie, and those that are wrong.)

The performance didn’t go far past a PG13 rating on the night we went, so it wasn’t too naughty. Instead of offensive language and themes, they lean more toward Shakespeare (“every party needs a bard”). I was impressed with their command of language and creativity; each performer can turn a great phrase, evoke a huge laugh, and realize when a bit needs to move on. Every audience member had a chance to contribute to the improv, and it ended with us wanting more.

Live theatre and improv is a great holiday gift for audiences of every age. The Naughty List is an ideal family outing for parents of college age kids. The performance runs 90 minutes with an intermission, at Arnold’s at 210 E. Eighth Street in Downtown Cincinnati. For tickets, contact Know Theatre at or 513-300-5669.

NKU Stages Thoroughly Modern Millie with Thoroughly Fabulous Cast and Crew


Review by Laura Petracco of Thoroughly Modern Millie: NKU

I recently saw Thoroughly Modern Millie at NKU and I cannot give it high enough praise. This production was packed full of such talented performers, choreography that was meant for Broadway and costumes that made the story even more real.

The entire cast of Millie was phenomenal, but there were three performers that stood out in my mind. The first is, not surprisingly, Megan Urz, who played Millie Dillmount. Megan gave Millie an aggressive edge that I’ve never seen played before and I truly enjoyed her choice. There are a lot of one liners in this show and Megan also did a perfect job of delivering hers. The second performer is Melissa Cathcart, who played Mrs. Meers, who was the actor-turned-criminal that was impersonating a Chinese woman to stay undercover. Her terrible Chinese accent immediately made me love her and she played the annoyed, evil characteristics of Mrs. Meers very, very well. The third notable performance in my book belongs to Andy Burns who played Trevor Graydon. Trevor is the president of the company where Millie gets hired and he is a very proud, earnest, obsessive man. Andy did such a marvelous job of portraying the quirky, yet serious, business-minded side of Trevor and really showed his loveable side in the second act.

The choreography in this production was done by Tracey Bonner. It was so incredibly fun to watch and at times I felt like I was watching a Broadway show. The cast was so in sync with each other during every number and all of them were so, extremely talented. The steps that Miss Bonner had the cast doing did not seem simple or easy, but you never would have guessed after watching the students perform. One of my favorite, most memorable parts of the show was the scene change into “The Speed Test”. Tap dancers brought out desks and chairs and papers and books and they got around by tapping very quickly. They made it sound like an old typewriter and it fit so well, considering they were setting the scene for “Sincere Trust” – an insurance company where Millie gets a job as a stenographer.

Ronnie Chamberlain gets the credit for designing the time-period-appropriate costumes in this production. This show is set in the 1920s, when women were wearing short skirts, bobbing their hair and drinking in Speakeasies. Mr. Chamberlain did a great job bringing all of these characteristics of the twenties to life on the stage with the costumes.

This show had its last performance on Sunday and I hope you got to see it! It was clear that these students worked their tails off to make this show all that it was. I look forward to seeing the next show at NKU!

All Will Have a Good Night at Covedale‘s Nights Before Christmas

Review by Doug Iden of The Night’s Before Christmas: Covedale Theatre

Want to know Moore about how Clement wrote the beloved poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas? Some of those answers are presented in the world premiere of The Nights Before Christmas with book and lyrics written by Tim Perrino and music by Steve Goers at the Covedale Theater. Perrino is the Artistic Director of the Cincinnati Landmark Productions including Covedale and the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater and Goers has been music director for many local productions at a variety of theaters.

The play, told in flashback, tells the story of ancient languages scholar and theologian Clement Moore, a dour New Yorker who wrote the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas (popularly known today as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas) – or did he? The play travels two paths: one addresses the writing (or not) of the poem interwoven with Moore’s personal family life. Events in the play take place on Christmas Eves in five different years starting in 1822 when Moore first penned the poem and concludes in 1844 when the family leaves the mansion at Chelsea for Rhode Island since the city of New York is encroaching on what was originally a rural setting when the play starts.

The controversy relates to the authorship of the poem (which is still somewhat disputed today). In the play, Moore, portrayed by veteran Cincinnati actor Matt Dentino, leaves the mansion on Christmas Eve in 1822 for a charitable endeavor and returns very late to the consternation of the Moore family and servants. While out, Moore has written the poem and secured the assistance of a sleigh driver Lorenzo DaPonte who had been the librettist for Mozart’s famous operas including The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi Fan Tutte but had recently fallen on bad times. On Moore’s arrival home, he starts an annual tradition of reading the poem to his family and servants. However, before Moore can recite the poem, Moore’s wife’s cousin Henrietta Steward (Julia Hasl Miller) grabs the poem, copies and “doctors” it. The following year, Henrietta submits the poem to a newspaper and it is published with an author of “Anonymous”. Moore is furious about the publication, especially when Henrietta claims partial authorship. Moore is proud of the poem but does not want a triviality to demean his scholarly works, plus he considers his wife as the owner of the poem. There is some resolution as the play progresses. You have no Claus to worry about the plot.

While the authorship issue provides the dramatic tension, the heart of the show relates to the extended Moore family, including the servants. Despite a stern and mirthless exterior, Moore’s passion for his wife Mary Moore (Kalie Kaimann) and children Catherine (Sarah Viola), Charity (Jordan Darnell), young Clement (Phoenix Haigus) and Emily (Nora Darnell) seeps through. Dentino’s depiction of Moore is both heartfelt and heart-rending as personal tragedy continues to haunt the family throughout. Dentino’s performance is sterling and holds both the dramatic and vocal elements together. In this score, you can really hear the depth of Dentino’s vocal range.

There is a lot of music in the show which sounds more like an operetta than a classic Broadway musical. There are some lighter comic songs like Donna Henrietta and A Picaresque Travelogue but most are dramatic, passionate or soulful. Leaving the theater, I could not hum any of the songs but was impressed with the depth of the music, especially the songs Journey On (which poignantly concludes the first act), Tonight, My Lullaby, The Father of Christmas and Christmas Belongs to Her (referring to his now deceased wife). Unfortunately, I had difficulty hearing some of the lyrics which is necessary because the songs tell much of the story.

With one exception, the singing was very strong with special nods to Dentino and Sarah Viola (daughter Mary), Dylan McGill (James Ogden) and especially Kalie Kaimann whose enunciation and clear voice propelled the drama. The bombastic, over-the-top acting of Bob Brunner, as Lorenzo, was a highlight but he was frequently flat while singing. The principal servants played by Gabriella Francis, Leslie Hitch and Brandon Bentley provided the comic relief and contributed to the excellent chorus throughout the play.

The single set staging designed by Brett Bowling seemed to represent what an 1820’s wealthy, rural New York mansion may have looked like with heavy oak walls, many paintings and holiday decorations. Two lighted Christmas trees flanked the stage on each side which lent to the holiday spirit. The costuming by Caren Young appeared to be authentically historical and decorous. I normally do not mention dialect coaches but Katelyn Reid had to deal with English, German, Irish and (occasionally) Italian accents which mostly worked.

I need to pay particular attention to the lighting (of which I have been a frequent critic at the Covedale). The combination of the set and the lighting significantly enhanced the dramatic impact of the story. As an example, the lighting (and costuming) of Moore’s now deceased wife who appears during an anguished scene is very effective as Moore sings of his love and she suddenly appears in the door, backlit in a beautiful white dress. During the same scene, blue lights (symbolizing Moore’s torment) effectively follow Dentino around the stage. Those scenes, plus Santa’s emergence down the chimney, are highlights.

This show is much more dramatic and emotional than I thought it would be. I anticipated fun fluff but instead witnessed a show with more heft and structure instead. The audience seemed to agree. The play is somewhat uneven and could be tightened a little but, overall, I was impressed with the effort. This is also the first play premiere I have attended.

So hop on your sleigh, grab your egg nog and fly to The Nights Before Christmas beClaus Santa is coming to town. The play continues at the Covedale Theater through January 12, 2017.

Shuffle Off to Northern Kentucky University for Thoroughly Modern Millie!

Review by Spenser Smith of Thoroughly Modern Millie: NKU

Set in New York City in 1922, Thoroughly Modern Millie tells the all-too-familiar tale of a country girl who moves to the big city to make a better life for herself. This story centers on Millie Dillmount from Kansas who comes to New York and lands at the Priscilla Hotel, a home away from home for aspiring actresses. Her plan is to find a job as a secretary for a wealthy man and then marry him. Of course, her plan goes completely awry. Based on the 1967 film starring Julie Andrews, the musical won six Tony Awards and launched little-known Sutton Foster from the chorus to center stage.

Director Jamey Strawn has tapped a truly talented cast for the first musical of the season at NKU. Kudos to the men and women of the ensemble, who hoof it all the way through two and a half hours of nonstop energy! Senior musical theatre student Megan Urz stars as hopeful progressive Millie Dillmount. Her deadpan delivery and quirky charm are the perfect medicine for her rigid surroundings. Just wait for the “Nutty Cracker Suite!” Melissa Cathcart provides many of the evenings comical moments as the show’s villain, Mrs. Meers, a washed-up actress who thinks she’s a star. Her henchmen Ching Ho and Bun Foo, played with charm by Aki Hosoda and Tyler Rosenblatt respectively, speak in Chinese that is translated with projection on the proscenium. This provides many laughs as they reprise songs sung by other characters. The dialogue was ahead of the projection for most of the show, which made it hard for their laughs to land. Christina Tully returns to the NKU stage after starring in The Grapes of Wrath earlier this fall and gets a chance to shine again as cabaret star and Millie confidant Muzzy Van Hossmere. She gets the show’s diva moment and delivers with power.

Scenic Designer Matthew Hamel provides a perfectly functioning set that appropriately depicts time and place but also allows for mostly-seamless transitions between the many changes in location. This show was adapted for the stage from a film and that is no easy task. Costume Designer Ronnie Chamberlain mostly succeeds with the period clothing. The men are appropriately dapper, yet some of the women look as though they’ve shopped at Cappel’s rather than Burgdorf’s. Sound issues were aplenty on opening night and many lines were lost. I’m sure this is a kink that will be worked out as the run progresses. The same can be said for the lighting, which was very dim in places it didn’t seem appropriate and there were several moments actors missed their light altogether, leaving them in the dark. Another kink I’m sure can be worked out for future performances.

A true standout is the energetic and very fun choreography staged by NKU faculty member Tracey Bonner. She also choreographed last season’s Into the Woods, and it seems she has a real talent for making chaos look good! It’s a joy to watch her work and I’m confident I could see the show again and catch something fresh each time.

The orchestra, conducted by Damon Stevens, includes a few local favorites and most are NKU music students. It’s nice to see that collaboration at work. There are several moments where conductor and singer don’t’ agree and the tempo drags, but another issue that is easily fixed.

Millie continues at the Corbett Theatre on the campus of Northern Kentucky University through December 11.

For tickets, call 859-572-5464Call: 859-572-5464 or visit