“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” Makes a Fun, Farcical Time of Both at the White Theatre

In a scee from a play, a young man and woman dressed in early 20th Century costumes perform a romantic scene in front of a trellis.

Abbey Downs and Matthew Briggs in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (CierreDeniseCreative)

With a few notable exceptions, stories about serial killers don’t often make their way to musical theatre stages. But as the 2013 Tony Award-winning A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, currently onstage at the White Theatre at the J, proves, even the darkest subject matter has the potential to be the basis for hilarity.

Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak’s musical has its origin in a 1907 novel titled Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal by Roy Horniman, which was later loosely adapted into the 1949 film Kind Hearts and Coronets. Both are comedies but the musical takes things a step further and goes full farce with the story of Monty Navarro (Matthew Briggs), a young man who learns that his recently deceased mother, whom he knew as an impoverished servant, was actually high-born nobility. She was disowned by her family, the D’Ysquiths, when she eloped with a musician but now a mysterious woman named Miss Shingle (Susan Campen) has arrived to let Monty know the truth of his heritage—and to just happen to mention that there are only eight D’Ysquiths ahead of him in the line of succession.

That knowledge—and the risk of losing his social-climbing girlfriend Sibella (Cara Hampton)—is all it takes to set Monty on a murdering spree. There seemed to be quite a bit of room to dig deeper in conveying how those motivations inspired Monty to start killing, but Briggs proceeds with charm and an enthusiastic, innocent air to his crimes. Starting with the family reverand and working his way up to the Earl, Monty starts on his mission, killing everyone standing between himself and that title, with a jaunty, memorable song for each. Some of the D’Ysquiths (and yes, that is pronounced DIE-squith, if you were wondering) earn themselves little sympathy for their fortune, being unbearably rude, proud colonizers, or, in the case of one cousin who barely gets to live past his introduction, an outspoken proponent of the practice of eugenics. Not all are total monsters, though, but Monty is indiscriminate (and barely the slightest bit remorseful) as he kills them all by increasingly creative means.

While Monty is ostensibly the show’s protagonist, the real star of the show is Reed Uthe, who plays all eight of the doomed D’Ysquiths. (Although Jeremy Smith’s gorgeous stage-within-a-stage set is a close second.) Uthe rotates through the cast of characters of all genders, ages, and levels of monstrousness with impressive exuberance and hilarious results.

It should be noted that while the musical is about murder, there is no gore or terror here. The show, directed by Ashton Botts with music direction by Cassie Nguyen, is recommended for kids ages 10 and up. Aside from a fairly lengthy runtime, there shouldn’t be anything that children can’t handle, provided they have an appreciation for a bit of the macabre. The play gets off to a bit of a slow start but within just a few scenes the energy picks up and what follows is a whirlwind of farcical absurdity and delightful music.

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” runs at The White Theatre at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City (5801 W 115 Street, Overland Park, KS) through March 24. For more information, visit thewhitetheatre.org.

Vivian Kane

Vivian Kane is a writer living in Kansas City. She covers pop culture and politics for a national audience at The Mary Sue and theatre and film locally, with bylines in The Pitch. She has an MFA in Theatre from CalArts.

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