Lead performances to rival those of the original Broadway and touring casts and an ingeniously scaled-down production design are two very good reasons not to miss the hilarious salute to homicide that is Actors’ Repertory Theatre Of Simi’s A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder, the murderously mirthful quadruple-Tony-winning Best Musical of 2014.

Meet Monty Navarro (Vincent Perez), a personable, poverty-stricken young chap whose recently deceased mother’s youthful marriage to a Castilian musician ended up getting her not only pregnant but disowned, and who now, to his astonishment, finds himself ninth in line to inherit the D’Ysquith (“D’Y” as in “die”) fortune.

All he has to do to get his hands on it is bump off Asquith D’Ysquith Jr., Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith, Reverend Lord Ezekial D’Ysquith, Lord Asquith D’Ysquith Sr., Henry D’Ysquith, Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith, Lady Salome D’Ysquith Pumphrey, and Major Lord Bartholomew D’Ysquith—in that order.

Not only does news of his late mother’s disownment give Monty reason enough to contemplate revenge, the refusal of his beautiful but mercenary sweetheart Sibella Hallward (Deborah Robin) to marry a man without means seals the deal, sending our hero off to dispose of D’Ysquith after D’Ysquith in the most entertaining of ways.

There’s murder by thin ice, murder by bee stings, murder by an unfortunately loaded prop gun, and that still leaves five more killings before fortune and Sibella are Monty’s.

What our merry murderer hasn’t counted on is meeting distant cousin Phoebe D’Ysquith (Siena Avila), and when cousin Phoebe shows up at Monty’s doorstep to make the musical announcement “I’ve Decided To Marry You,” who should already be there but Sibella, leading to some of the funniest, most sharply timed physical comedy this side of French farce.

Did I mention that every single one of Monty’s victims is portrayed by a single actor, the fabulous-times-nine Adam Womack?

For a musical comedy like A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder to work as splendidly as this one does, not only must our antihero be as sympathetic as the ever so likeable Monty most definitely is despite his pesky predilection for murder, the musical’s tone must also be frothy and gay, and not just when victim number five, Henry D’Ysquith, informs Monty in delectable double-entendre that “It’s Better With A Man.”

Fortunately for audiences from Broadway to Simi Valley, Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak’s lyrics are every bit as sparkling and witty as Freedman’s book.

Lutvak’s tunes match them to perfection, the talented composer’s melodies evoking greats like Gilbert & Sullivan, Lerner & Lowe, and Stephen Sondheim. (Frequent Sondheim collaborator Jonathan Tunick just happens to be on board as orchestrator.)

Unlike original New York director Darko Tresnjak, Simi Valley’s Will Shupe must make magic with a non-Equity cast on a shoestring budget and, and in each respect the ARTS favorite scores a bull’s eye.

Giving his far more seasoned, Tony-winning predecessor Jefferson Mays a run for his money, Womack delivers nine scene-stealing, gender-bending, rig-tickling performances, including a wonderfully weird Reverend Lord Ezekial, a fabulously flaming Henry, a delightfully dotty Lady Hyacinth, and six more of equally outrageous quirks.

Perez not only looks every bit the handsome Latin lover, his Monty is charming as all get-out and sings with Broadway-caliber pipes, and the same can be said for dueling sopranos Robin (her comely, curvaceous Sibella a 180-degree turn from her sugar-and-vinegar Glendale Centre Theatre star turn as Mary Poppins) and the exquisite Avila, whose confident, appealing, gorgeously sung Phoebe belies her nineteen years.

Sydney Bowers’ zingy, zany Miss Shingle is matched in multiple roles each by Lenessa Age (Tour Guide), Laura Barrows (Miss Evangeline Barley), Mueen Jahan (Tom Copley), Andy Mattick (Chief Inspector Pinckney), Gary Saxer (Magistrate), and MarLee Candell as the deliciously scenery-(and husband)-chewing Lady Eugenia, all of the above executing choreographer Becky Castells’ quirky body moves to audience delight.

Director/designer Shupe merits sky-high marks for finding ever more ingenious ways to replicate A Gentleman’s Guide’s series of wacky murders on a reduced-scale Edwardian-era music hall stage minus the Broadway/Touring original’s big budget projections.

Joshua Stapel’s fabulous, built-from-scratch period costumes range from lavish gowns to funeral garb to Womack’s mutiple character-defining outfits.

Additional design kudos are shared by Sasha Venola for her vivid lighting, Eunice Sanders for her amusing collection of props, and Seth Kamenow for his expert sound design and mixing.

Musical director Gary Poirot is not only blessed with a vocally gifted cast, the production’s live orchestra hits just about every note right this time. (Coincidentally or not, it features just a horn section of one.)

 A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder is produced by Jan Glasband. Dean Foster is assistant to the director and production stage manager. Kimberly Kiley is production manager.

Meriting their own curtain calls are D’Ysquith Family dressers Stapel and Sarah “Pinky” Calantog and stage crew members Kiley, Camille Mattick, Maddie Mattick, and Jackson Mattick.

Not only does A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder provide a bright-and-breezy (and unapologetically amoral) alternative to the darkness and drama of fellow 21st-century Best Musical Tony winners Spring Awakening, Fun Home, and Dear Evan Hansen, its ARTS debut proves an unqualified community theater triumph for all concerned.

follow on twitter small

Actors Repertory Theatre Of Simi, Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3050 Los Angeles Avenue, Simi Valley.

–Steven Stanley
June 8, 2019


Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.