“A Gentleman’s Guide” Makes Triumphant Return to Hartford

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Kristen Beth Williams, Kevin Massey, Kristen Hahn. Photo by Joan Marcus

By Karen Isaacs

 It’s a triumphant return to Hartford for the Tony-winning A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder which is at the Bushnell through Oct.  30.

It had its world premiere at Hartford Stage in Fall 2012 and swept the awards from the Connecticut Critics Circle and then winning numerous awards in New York including the Tony for Outstanding musical.

This national tour is also directed by Dark Tresnjak who has adjusted some of the performances to work effectively in the larger theaters that tours play. It is still a blend of humor, satire and musical touches. But now, some of the humor is broader and less subtle.

The musical with book by Robert L. Freedman is predictable but Tresnjak’s clever usage of theatrical techniques brings a delightful freshness to familiar plot.

If you have seen the classic British film Kind Hearts and Cornets, with Alex Guiness, you will recognize the plot but it is actually based on a 1907 English novel. In it, Monty Navarro played terrifically by Kevin Massey, makes his way up the ladder of succession to become Lord D’Ysquith, Earl of Highhurst and take over the manor house.  Achieving this, of course, depends on the demise of at least eight relatives closer in line – some die fortuitously and some need a little help from him.

  John Rapson plays all of Monty’s relatives – both male and female. He has a hard act to follow. Jefferson Mays was marvelous in the role. Rapson’s take is different; often his characterization stress the broader humor of the role.

This is great fun, particularly with Tresnjak’s staging and the set by Alexander Dodge which makes use of a Victorian theater set on the stage  The pseudo-stage is more like a frame for many scenes, but the actors also make good use of the space in front of the set.

The music by Steven Lutfak and lyrics by Freedman and Lutfak are tuneful and often very funny. They capture the various characters. I really liked the opening “A Warning to the Audience,” and “I Don’t Understand the Poor,” plus “I’ve Decided to Marry You,” among others. The music is a mixture of humorous songs – usually song by Rapson—and more melodic melodies for Massey and his two leading ladies.

One of the complications that Monty encounters is romantic in nature. He has two loves  — his first love, Sibella marries another because Monty has no money at that point, but his perfectly happy to have him as a lover. Later, Phoebe, one of his cousins decides she wants him; Monty is truly attracted to both.  Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella is also flirtation and sex appeal with a lovely soprano voice. Kristen Hahn, as Phoebe, is less sexy but very also with a terrific voice. You can understand why Monty wants – and gets – them both.

Adding to the fun is the supporting cast who plays multiple roles, the stylized Victorian choreography by Peggy Hickey and the gorgeous costumes by Linda Cho.

Though arrested for murder after the last Earl of Highurst (he’s innocent of that murder), rest assured that it all turns out satisfactorily.

This show combines laughs and gorgeous musical; in some ways it is reminiscent of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta.

So if you want a light, enjoyable and thoroughly delightful evening in the theater, make sure you see A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder at Bushnell. Tickets are available at Bushnell.

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John Rapson and cast. Photo by Joan Marcus

 

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