The 5th Avenue Theater ends its 2015 Season on a high note taking its mission seriously to: “nurture, advance and preserve all aspects of America’s great indigenous art form : The Musical” with the touring company of The Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder the 2014 Tony winner of that year.
This show is filled with theatrical tricks, visual treats and stunning tableaus. The plot is an interesting black comedy in which “a charming young man…lies and kills eight of his relatives and prospers…”. The cast is superb with voices that shine, mingle and blend throughout. The script is based on the novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal by Roy Harriman as was the film Kind Hearts and Coronets. The Tony winning book (and lyrics) is by Robert Freedman and music is by Steven Lutvak. The director Darko Tresnjak, was also awarded a Tony. (The directing is wonderful – full of cleaver blocking, great timing and effective staging.) The costumes garnered a fourth Tony for Linda Cho.
This musical is filled mostly with: great acting! John Rapson is outstanding as he plays all the eight characters of the D’Ysquith family. His costume changes alone must have made him dizzy! He changes costumes so quickly you suspect he has a double. Each D’Ysquith character is impressively different most outstanding is Reverend Lord Ezekial D’Ysquith and the weight lifting, vegetarian, fitness buff Major Lord Bartholomew D’Ysquith. All of the bits, voices and familial idiosyncratic touches are so well done. This is an acting feat you will enjoy.
Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella Hallward, in constant motion preening and primping always looking like she is in view of a mirror, is very good. It was generous of her to share the stage and stardom with her unashamedly ostentatious pink dress in “I Don’t Know What I’d Do”. She has a lovely voice. Adrienne Eller, just graduated from NYU and in her third credited role as Pheobe D’Ysquith, is also very talented. A “threesome” scene and number “I’ve Decided to Marry You” between her, Sibella and main character Monty Navaro (Kevin Massey) is one of the shows major highlights.
L-R: Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella Hallward, Kevin Massey as Monty Navaro and Adrienne Eller as Phoebe D’Ysquith. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Kudos to the ensemble all great! Special mention goes to Kristen Mengelkoch as Lady Eugenia the wacky whining wife to Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith. They make a deliciously despicable couple ironically playing it out over dinner!
The set is a wonder (Alexander Dodge was nominated for a Tony). The toy theater incorporation is so clever. The church tower and skating scene murders are standouts. (This show makes you think sick that way!) The use of projections and scrim add wonderful depth to the show. Many of the scenes, singing and acting are stylized harking back to the era of My Fair Lady musicals and voices like Julie Andrews.
The first act drags a tad, Kevin Massey really did not pick up steam till the second act and the many songs while pleasant are for the most part not memorable. But, none of this matters in the end. The show delivers enough humor, cleverness and technique – you leave the theater glad you made the trip! “Death is such a tasteless way of showing-off…” and in this show there is much tasteless showing off – murders galore, plot twists and more. I recommend you go! Plan your visit.
This is a great way to end the 2015 season…a set that is original, direction that surprises, costumes that please, actors that show off the craft and ensemble work that sings out! Season 2015 R.I.P!
THE NEXT STAGE: The 5th Avenue has big plans to enhance and improve the beautiful historic theater and the musical theater experience as it rounds the corner to its 90th anniversary. The first stage of improvements are beginning this summer and there is more to come. If you would like to donate to the cause called The Next Stage they would welcome your support! For 36 years the 5th Avenue has been one of the nation’s leading musical theater companies. 2016-2017 season tickets now!