Make us your home page

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 or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

. If you go

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

The show runs through Sunday at the Straz Center, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $40-$95. (813) 229-7827.

Review: 'A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder' is fast-moving fun 10/21/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 21, 2015 9:20pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Cridlin: Linkin Park's Chester Bennington had a wail that stood apart

    Music & Concerts

    For all the old-timers' talk about how they don't make singers like they used to, about how rock vocalists of the 21st century can't hold a candle to the frontmen of yesteryear, here's a fact no hater could deny:

    Chester Bennington could flat-out wail.

    Chester Bennington of Linkin Park  performs at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa for the 2014 Carnivores Tour. [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
  2. Ready to go it alone? Tips for easing into solo travel


    Since 2012, Kristin Addis has been traveling the world. More often than not, she's solo.

    Travel author Kristin Addis takes soloness to another level at Dead Horse State Park in Utah. Before you book an international trip, try starting small to test the waters.
  3. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for July 21


    Taking Back Sunday: The emo heroes will be joined by Every Time I Die and Modern Chemistry. 6:30 p.m., Jannus Live, 200 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg. $26.50. (727) 565-0550. Afterward, guitarist and co-lead vocalist John Nolan performs a DJ set at 10 p.m., The Bends, 919 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg. Free.

    Taking Back Sunday, performing in St. Petersburg this weekend. Credit: Reybee, Inc.
  4. On the Camino de Santiago, Day 16: An evening of wine and song transcends all language barriers for these travelers


    Day 16: Castrojeriz to Villarmentero de Campos: 35 km, 10.5 hours. Total for Days 1-16 = 360 km (224 miles)

  5. Artist exchange creates Tampa-Havana friendships

    Visual Arts

    SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — Bad weather rocked the Southwest Airlines flight from Havana to Tampa.

    Marian Valdes of Havana, Cuba, who is a resident artist through the Tempus Projects artist exchange program, stands for a portrait at the non-profit art space in Tampa, Fla., on Monday, July 17, 2017. Valdes has an upcoming exhibit titled “Addicted Involution.”