Friday, May 25, 2018
Stage

Review: 'A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder' is fast-moving fun

TAMPA — Some plays set out to make the audience think, to challenge conventions or just tell a good story.

Musical comedies aim to lift the mood. They want to make you leave feeling better than when you came in.

By that measure, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, which opened Tuesday at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, surpasses expectations. It's easy to see how the show won four Tony awards in 2014, including best musical. Gentleman's Guide is as lavish as the upper-crust British nobility it spoofs, a visual spectacle.

The set changes via a rotating circular platform or by a limitless supply of imagery in the background, as if on a movie screen. The effects depict an opulent palace or the humble living quarters of an ambitious clerk, a lush garden or a medieval-looking prison cell.

Through that kind of technical brilliance on every level, the audience comes closer than seems possible to actually living in the scenes. It's a lot like special effects in a movie, and the scenic design by Alexander Dodge and projection design by Aaron Rhyne must be acknowledged.

Based on a book by Robert Freedman and music by Steven Lutvak (the two combined on the lyrics), A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder principally is a story about a little guy who gets kicked around by a lot of big guys but won't give up his quest.

It's hard not to take that bait, and leading man Kevin Massey makes sure that we can't resist. In the opening scene, set in 1907, a mysterious visitor tells the impoverished clerk Monty Navarro that he is actually a blue blood.

You're a D'Ysquith, a duet between Monty (Massey) and Mary VanArsdel as Miss Shingle, gives Navarro a goal and a noble justification for pursuing it. The stranger reveals that Navarro's mother was born a D'Ysquith, but then disinherited after she eloped with a musician.

On learning he is a descendant, Monty would like to reassert his place in line. Money is only part of it — he's also in love. His girlfriend, Sibella, won't marry Monty unless he can support her in style. And she's not convinced his newly discovered aristocratic lineage will help.

Another obstacle: In order for Monty to inherit a penny, the eight people ahead of him would have to die.

Monty introduces himself with a letter to Lord Asquith D'Ysquith, the aging patriarch and head of the family banking business, but is rebuffed. A series of bizarre and fatal misfortunes then befall other D'Ysquiths, and Monty is always nearby when they do.

The pace is quick and most of the lines are sung, which means you have to stay on your toes. Songs that must convey so much plot information tend to be more serviceable than sublime. There are some exceptions, including I Don't Know What I'd Do Without You by Monty and Sibella (charmingly played by Kristen Beth Williams), and I Don't Understand the Poor, by John Rapson as Lord Adalbert D'Ysquith and a strong ensemble.

None of this would work without really capable actors; and Massey, Williams and Rapson all have Broadway credits. While Massey's portrayal of an endearingly devilish antihero steals the limelight much of the time, it is Rapson who actually carries the heaviest load. Rapson changes costumes and characters every few minutes, playing nine members of the D'Ysquith family, including two with the title of lady.

Singing throughout the show is first-rate.

The plot never stops twisting, which is fun. The flip side is that you might miss them if you're not paying close attention. The show moves that fast.

Particularly extraordinary visual effects include a massive Dutch masters painting behind guests at a dinner table in the D'Ysquith estate. The dinner guests are positioned and choreographed virtually to blend into the painting; just as the outdoor scenes, in particular, invite the audience to step into other worlds.

These kinds of achievements, and fine performances all round, help make Gentleman's Guide an enjoyable evening.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

Comments
Ballet Nacional de Cuba stuns with a spectacular ‘Giselle’

Ballet Nacional de Cuba stuns with a spectacular ‘Giselle’

TAMPA — The Ballet Nacional de Cuba performed Giselle, its signature ballet, on Wednesday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. Fifty-four dancers charmed a packed house, culminating in about two hours an effort that took more tha...
Published: 05/24/18
Well, it’s different: Porn stars are doing stand up comedy this weekend in St. Pete

Well, it’s different: Porn stars are doing stand up comedy this weekend in St. Pete

IF YOU SAY SO: PORN STARS ARE COMEDIANSWell, it’s different. Porn Stars Are Comedians extends the concept of the podcast Porn Stars Are People ("the only podcast with porn stars where we don’t discuss porn or the business of porn"), hosted by Dan Fri...
Published: 05/23/18
Waiting for ‘Godot’ to end: Half-okay performances mar an already irritating classic at Hat Trick

Waiting for ‘Godot’ to end: Half-okay performances mar an already irritating classic at Hat Trick

CLEARWATER — Hat Trick Theatre, the resident company of Ruth Eckerd Hall, closes out its season with Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. I must say it’s a stark choice, mainly because I can’t get two sentences into this without using the word "stark....
Published: 05/23/18
Despite hurdles, Ballet Nacional de Cuba returns to Tampa after 15 years

Despite hurdles, Ballet Nacional de Cuba returns to Tampa after 15 years

For decades, the reputation of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba has never dropped below excellent. In a country that prides itself on art, the company represents the best of the best, with a colorful style all its own, a blend of Russian precision and an ...
Published: 05/23/18

Local production of "Ain’t Retirement Grand!" promises lots of laughs

HUDSON — What to do in the golden years? Early bird specials, doctor’s appointments, figuring out who to leave what in your will? Or maybe just take some time out for a few laughs about the situation.A local production of Ain’t Retirement Grand! migh...
Published: 05/22/18
Florida Orchestra closes 50th masterworks season with Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony

Florida Orchestra closes 50th masterworks season with Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony

TAMPA — The Florida Orchestra wraps up its final masterworks concert of the season with a masterfully complex Johannes Brahms piano concerto and Ludwig van Beethoven’s warmly accessible Symphony No. 6, commonly known as the "Pastoral."Friday’s sold-o...
Published: 05/19/18
Florida Orchestra to offer violin lessons for at-risk Tampa youth

Florida Orchestra to offer violin lessons for at-risk Tampa youth

TAMPA — The Florida Orchestra will begin tutoring at-risk children free of charge, thanks to a Hillsborough County grant.The $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. pays for six weeks of violin instruction at select recreatio...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
Orchestra performs last masterworks of the season, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6

Orchestra performs last masterworks of the season, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6

GRAND MASTERS: BEETHOVEN AND BRAHMSIt’s last call for the Florida Orchestra’s masterworks season. And why not close out the 50th season with two passionate cannon blasts, Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, better known as th...
Published: 05/16/18
Review: ‘Addams Family’ cast, choreography, costumes worth seeing at Richey Suncoast

Review: ‘Addams Family’ cast, choreography, costumes worth seeing at Richey Suncoast

NEW PORT RICHEY — DO. NOT. MISS. THIS. SHOW.I’m talking about The Addams Family, the musical comedy based on the Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons, several television series and two feature films, but with updated cultural references for current au...
Published: 05/14/18
Updated: 05/15/18

Review: ‘Calendar Girls’ stage show needs a touch-up

Oh, how I wish this could be a glowing review of the dramedy Calendar Girls, playing weekends through May 20 at Stage West Community Playhouse.The show about longtime friends semi-baring their bosoms to make a calendar to raise money to buy a sofa fo...
Published: 05/11/18
Updated: 05/14/18