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'A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder' stands out as a whimsical narrative of romance, deception


A brilliant vigilante dabbling in violent crime? Check.

Saucy romantic entanglements with multiple women? Check.

The combination of high artistic merit, timely social commentary and obnoxious low-brow hilarity? Check.

"A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" hits all the marks of a great show, and the first national tour manages to follow closely in the acclaimed Broadway production's footsteps. 

The touring performance combines an extravagant staging with lively show tunes that mix elegance with buffoonery to create a truly dazzling show.

The story is set in 1909 and follows Monty Navarro, a peasant who finds out his family has a secret history that makes him ninth in line to inherit the earldom of an esteemed London nobility. 

In order to get revenge against the snobby family that disowned his mother before her death, Monty embarks on a mission to kill the eight relatives that stand above him and take their place as Earl of Highhurst.

Following its successful Broadway run, the show hit the road and now it's in Tempe for the week.

The touring production opened its eight-show run at Gammage on Tuesday. Enthusiastic crowds lined outside the theater, anxious to experience the 2014 Tony Award winner for Best Musical for the first time.

I can't speak for every audience member, but based on the thunderous standing ovation and my shameless post-curtain-call eavesdropping, the crowd was impressed.

"I wasn't expecting that," one audience member said, her voice tinged with awe as she exited the theater. "It. Was. So. Good."

"It was like a reverse 'Sweeney Todd,'" another remarked.

Someone else likened the musical to "Wicked," noting its stylistic similarities to the hit musical that stopped by Gammage earlier this season.

They do have a few common traits, and it's tempting to compare "A Gentleman's Guide" to other shows of its caliber. However, several elements set it apart from other musicals in the genre.

The first is the production's unique staging. Most of the set is housed within a smaller stage, which allows the characters to seamlessly transition from past to present by moving around in both space and time. 

Some parts of the set shift forward or backward to interact with the actors, while others remain constant throughout the show. In lieu of painted sets, a background screen provides quick and interactive backdrops that set the quirky, unconventional tone of the production.

The second is its adept cast. A great script and showy staging won't save a show if the actors themselves can't carry its plot, but "A Gentleman's Guide" was performed by a well-rounded and lovable set of performers.

John Rapson played all eight members of the lofty D'Ysquith family, who die in a multitude of grisly ways — but not before squeezing in plenty of catchy musical numbers. 

Aside from his acting prowess, Rapson should win an award for the fastest and most comprehensive costume changes ever seen. It was remarkable how he could end a scene as a bucktoothed aging priest and immediately begin the next scene as a snooty, voluptuous socialite woman. The transformation happened in seconds.

As the likable murderer Monty, Kevin Massey managed to maintain a level of charm even as he plotted to exterminate those above him in the line of succession. His stage presence commanded that his plight be taken seriously in a musical that was otherwise constructed for laughs.

Actresses Kristen Beth Williams and Adrienne Eller were both captivating love interests as Sibella and Phoebe, respectively. Williams played Monty's childhood crush and playful seductress, while Eller embodied his demure, sincere companion.

All the actors maintained a thundering vocal performance that matched the lavish set and costumes. The entire production was rich and there was never a dull moment in the production.

For fans of the original Broadway recording, it's worth noting that there are a few variations from the original. However, they're largely minor (primarily changes in tone or delivery of lines) and many of them were made by the actors in an attempt to make the roles their own.

In that respect, the cast and crew succeeded. The show never felt like an imitation, but rather a new staging of its beloved predecessor.

It may be unfamiliar territory for most theater audiences, but "A Gentleman's Guide" will go down in history as a memorable and thrilling musical experience. Don't miss the chance to see the first national tour while it's in town — tickets can still be purchased on the Gammage website.


Reach the reporter at skylar.mason@asu.edu or follow @skylarmason42 on Twitter.

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