Last night I went with some friends to see A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder at the 5th Avenue Theater in downtown Seattle.
This farce, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2014, is the story of a young somewhat impoverished man Monty Navarro (played by Kevin Massey) who discovers he is a distant relative to the Earl of Highhurst. Realizing his best chance at wooing his money-seeking girlfriend is to actually have money, he begins his quest to find his long lost relatives (the D’Ysquith family) and move his way up the line of succession by any means possible. Scenes of unfortunate accidents (wink wink) amongst the D’Ysquiths ensue.
While this musical is a throwback to English comedies and great murder mysteries of yore, it does bring one unique gimmick – each one of the eight D’Ysquiths who stand between Monty and his earldom are played by one actor, the talented and hilarious John Rapson. At first, if you are unaware of this device, you wouldn’t notice Rapson’s departures from stage to do lightning-speed costume changes to become the next victim/relative. Slowly it becomes apparent (at least to those of us who weren’t familiar with this setup) and Rapson draws more and more laughs with each quizzical character – from the bucktoothed Parson D’Ysquith to the effete bee-keeping cousin Henry to the dramatic, if talent-lacking actress Solome.
The writing was devious but delightful and the madcap lyrics brought laughter to the audience. Far and away the best were the sets, which were both storybook and Hitchcockian (the set for the demise of the Parson felt like something out of Vertigo). I particularly enjoyed the ice-skating scene, which takes a Currier & Ives-like setting and turns it into a (lighthearted) scene of murder-most-foul.