The new musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder opened Nov. 17 at the Walter Kerr Theatre. Tony winner Jefferson Mays (I Am My Own Wife) and Bryce Pinkham (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Ghost: The Musical) star along with Lisa O’Hare, Lauren Worsham and Jane Carr. The show which features a book by Robert L. Freeman, music by Steve Luvak, and lyrics by Freeman and Luvak, is based on the 1907 novel Israel Rank by Roy Horniman.
Set in the elegant Edwardian era, the plot concerns ne’er-do-well Monty Navarro (Pinkham), who discovers he is ninth in line to the fabulous D’Ysquith family earldom and fortune. Monty systemically knocks off the eight D’Ysquith relatives who stand in his way. All of the victims are played by Mays, repeating his multiple-personality performance from productions of the show at the Hartford Stage and San Diego’s Old Globe Theater. Darko Tresnjak, artistic director for Hartford, who staged both productions, also mounts the production for Broadway. The novel served as the basis of the classic 1949 British film comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets in which Alec Guinness played all eight targets for Monty’s murderous plans.
Were the critics slain by A Gentleman’s Guide? Here are excerpts from the major reviewers.
Charles Isherwood, The New York Times
“Despite the high body count, this delightful show will lift the hearts of all those who’ve been pining for what sometimes seems a lost art form: musicals that match streams of memorable melody with fizzily witty turns of phrase. Bloodlust hasn’t sung so sweetly, or provided so much theatrical fun, since Sweeney Todd first wielded his razor with gusto many a long year ago.”
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“Directed by Darko Tresnjak, the production is a high-gloss beaut. Linda Cho’s gem-toned costumes reek period chic, from corsetted frocks to stylish waistcoats. Alexander Dodge’s set is a little jewel box. It features clever secret compartments and a snug stage upon which Monty’s recollections unfold. Philip S. Rosenberg lights it all in dramatic fashion. The best part: the two leads. Bryce Pinkham sings like a dream and brings great appeal to the murderous Monty. I Am My Own Wife Tony winner Jefferson Mays musters big laughs as Monty’s victims.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post
“Director Darko Tresnjak comes up with staging tricks that combine projections and bright vaudevillian flair, but repetition sets in: Mays just pops back up in an outlandish new guise, looking very pleased with himself. Meanwhile, the charmless Pinkham—much better as the villain in Ghost: The Musical— basically functions as a placeholder during Mays’ costume changes.”
Jennifer Farrar, Associated Press
“Events zip along with a winking, good-humored air, interspersed with wonderful singing by the whole cast, whether it’s a bouncy melody or a thoughtful ballad. Ever energetic, Mays, who won a Tony Award for portraying multiple characters in I Am My Own Wife, superbly creates a different eccentric British personality for each unfortunate D’Ysquith.”
Linda Winer, Newsday
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder is, at heart, a clever and jolly 90-minute frolic about a mouse of a disinherited Brit who kills his way up the noble Edwardian family tree until he becomes lord of the manor. Alas, this musical-comedy trifle runs a very leisurely two and a half hours, not 90 minutes. This fact should not dissuade patient theatergoers who want to relish Jefferson Mays in one of those performances that people will be talking about all season.
David Cote, Time Out New York
“Since it turns on the niceties of aristocratic succession, why not start the coronation early: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is the new undisputed king of musical comedy. Filled with lunatic sight gags and the wittiest, loveliest show tunes in years, there’s not a weak link in the lively cast, and Darko Tresnjak’s antic, cartoonish staging is ideal. But without a doubt, the jewel in GGLM’s crown is an eight-faceted gem: Jefferson Mays as a gargoylish gallery of doomed twits, snobs and prigs, members of the seriously inbred and outré D’Ysquith clan.”
Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
“This production’s secret weapon isn’t the poison in Monty’s pocket but Lutvak’s jaunty score, which sounds both fresh and period-perfect with its echoes of Gilbert and Sullivan and classic British music hall. And the lyrics are as gut-bustingly clever as anything in The Book of Mormon.”
Elysa Gardner, USA Today
“Mays is as funny evoking the characters’ often-grisly ends as he is giving them quirky life. The buff, blustering major is undone by his machismo, while poor, delicate Henry—whose particular fondness for Monty informs the side-splitting duet ‘Better with a Man,’ one of several catchy, clever songs by composer/lyricist Steven Lutvak and lyricist/librettist Robert L. Freedman—finds his beloved little buzzers turned unwittingly against him.”
Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“Visually, this stylish spoof of Edwardian manners and (lack of) morals mocks its own high style, as defined by class-act helmer Darko Tresnjak, a.d. of Hartford Stage, where the show preemed. Tucked inside the gaudy frame of an English music hall stage, Alexander Dodge’s colorful set looks like a dollhouse inhabited by living dolls, gorgeously gowned by Linda Cho.”
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
“From the leads down through the multitasking chorus, this is a superb ensemble, vocally and in their facility for verbal and physical comedy. Broadway newcomers O’Hare and Worsham are particularly welcome discoveries–crystalline sopranos with sharp comic instincts. And while the showiest work naturally goes to Mays, Pinkham’s invaluable anchoring presence cannot be overlooked, lending his dry understatement to pretty much every scene.”
Steven Suskin, Huffington Post
“Everything about the show is so likable. I left Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder having had a perfectly pleasant time with a pair of talented new theatre-writers, in the company of a delightful cast. But rousing? No.”
Matt Windman, AM New York
“With a thin premise, a sluggish book and unmemorable songs that vaguely resemble work by Gilbert & Sullivan and Noel Coward, the show makes for a tiresome two and a half hours that depend mainly upon Mays’ frequent costume changes, death scenes and all-around versatility to lend an air of slapstick.”