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"A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder" Tickles a Dark Funny Bone


By Karen Nowosad

originally published: 05/23/2024

"A Gentleman

The opening song of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder. at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Photo by Avery Brunkus.

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey (STNJ) opened their 62nd season last weekend with the show A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder. New Artistic Director Bruce B. Crowe welcomed the audience and explained that this is the first time in a dozen years since a musical was being presented at STNJ. After seeing it performed, I would encourage them not let so many years pass again. In fact, can I put in my order for another one next season?

This show is an outstanding production that has an excellent cast, live musicians, and strong creative work. Best of all, it is funny but as hinted at in the title of this article, it is dark humor. You will need to read on to see what I mean. The musical score includes songs that describe the characters and situations they are in. And speaking of characters, they are integral to making this show funny. Their fates create a story that is definitely over the top; all the better to create laughs.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder is based on the comedic novel by Roy Horniman and brought to life by Robert L. Freedman (Book and Lyrics) and Steven Lutvak (Music and Lyrics), It opened on Broadway in October, 2013. It ran for 905 performances picking up the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2014.

The STNJ’s production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder is directed by Brian B. Crowe.



 
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An Active Storyline - The basic story revolves around Montague “Monty” Navarro (Miles Jacoby) and his quest to become the Ninth Earl of Highhurst. After his mother’s death, he is told by the mysterious Miss Shingle (Lauren Cohn), that his mother was a member of the aristocratic D’Ysquith family. Isabel D’Ysquith had eloped with a musician who is now also deceased. This caused her her family to disown her. Isabel never told Monty about this in order to avoid any embarrassment for him. As the show opens, he is living a rather poor life.

However, Miss Shingle encourages Monty to seek out his rightful place in the family. She admits its a longshot because he is ninth in line to inherit the earldom of Highhurst. Monty is not convinced to do anything. However, when he finds out the woman he is love with, Sibella Hallward (Claire Leydon), is preparing to look for another more successful man, he moves into action.

Mr. Jacoby does a great job playing Monte as he becomes the straight man of the funny actions. Ms. Cohn puts a funny spin onto the Miss Shingle character; she gets your attention every time she appears.

The Eight Who are Ahead in Succession - Monty decides to meet the Reverend Lord Ezekial D’Ysquith. They tour the ancestral family church. As they stand on edge of the bell tower, a gusty wind causes the Reverend to loose his balance. Rather than trying to save him, Monty lets him fall. Clever staging gives the concept of the fall but we don’t actually see a full body falling allowing humor to enter. So now, this becomes the turning point of the action because Monty realizes this is revenge for the way his mother was treated.

"A Gentleman

Christopher Sutton as Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith. Photo by Avery Brunkus

And so, he sets out to eliminate the other 7 people ahead of him in the line of succession. The musical takes on the tone of a farce because the events are exaggerated and the characters involved are all over the top. The term dark humor is also appropriate here because it is not normal to laugh as people are getting killed. But the tone and situations that are seen carries out the term well.

Christopher Sutton plays all eight of the ill-fated D’Ysquith heirs. Mr. Sutton does an amazing job taking on all these roles. All the costume changes alone would be enough to say he is amazing, but his humorous takes on the characters are absolutely terrific.

Some of the deaths are directly because of Monty but a few have other factors involved especially at the end when there is a death from poisoning.



 
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"A Gentleman

Miles Jacoby as Montague “Monty” Navarro and Eryn LeCroy as Phoebe D’Ysquith. Photo by Avery Brunkus

Love Enters Several Different Ways - Monte’s relationship with Sibella continues even though she marries another gentleman of higher status, Lionel Holland. But along the way as members of the D’Ysquith family are dying, he spends time with Phoebe D’Ysquith (Eryn LeCroy). He comforts her as she morns the deaths. And he grows very fond of her but remains in love with Sibella. Eventually, Phoebe announces her intentions in a rather humorous tune, “I’ve Decided to Marry You.”

There are other events which occur concerning Monte and the two women that cause some conflict. However, the concluding actions of the tale involve both of the women assisting Monte in a surprising manner.

A final word about Eryn Le Croy and Claire Leyden: they are both very fine singers and produce some of the best moments of song in the show.

When I write these reviews, I try not to give away the ending, so I will just say there is a little surprising twist at the end. After you have seen the action played out, you are bound to find it an amusing way to end.

Cast and Creatives - In addition to the five cast members mentioned above, the production also includes Javier Alfonso Castellanos, Bobby Cook Gallagher, Francesca Mehrotra, James Conrad Smith, Kayla Ryan Walsh, and Katie Zaffrann. All told, this cast is excellent to watch and listen to.

The creative team includes Doug Oberhamer (music director), Dick Block (set design), Austin Blake Conlee (costume design), Matt Weisgable (lighting design), Steve Beckel (sound design). Additionally, there is Jeffrey Marc Alkins (choreography), Julie Foh (dialect consultant), and Carolyn Fast (Production Stage Manager)

Go See A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder - The timing for this show works well as the holiday weekend is upon us. If you are looking for a fun event out to attend, this should be one to consider.

Performances will run from May 15th through June 9th at FM Kirby Shakespeare Theatre on the campus of Drew University in Madison, NJ. Parking is free and conveniently located near the venue.



 
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NOTE: Performances use haze, the sound of gunshots, brief strobe flashes and other effects. See the show page on STNJ’s website for more details.

Single tickets and subscription packages are available for purchase online at shakespearenj.org or by calling 973-408-5600.


Let's Go to the Theater helps people learn more about about live theater and develop appreciation for this art form. Karen M. Nowosad is the founder of the site. The enjoyment Karen gets from going to the theater is something she wants to share with others.

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