When A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical, some wondered whether it truly deserved the honor.
After all, the competition that year included Aladdin and Beautiful: The Carol King Musical, shows with equally devoted followings and more memorable tunes.
But Murder tapped into a particularly daffy zeitgeist that melded British drawing room humor and an over-the-top music hall camp not seen since the late Charles Ludlam trod the New York boards.
Local audiences can discover that alchemy for themselves this weekend with a touring production of the show in residence at the Stranahan Theater through Sunday.
Loosely based on the 1907 novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal, the show has a decidedly nasty edge. Monty Navarro (Blake Price of Grand Rapids, Mich.) discovers that he is the illegitimate heir of the snooty D’Ysquith family, his mother disinherited after running off with a Castilian musician.
Raised in poverty, Monty wonders what it would take for him to inherit the title of Earl. As it turns out there are only eight obstacles to the family fortune, all of them other heirs.
If they should meet with untimely deaths, he would move up the line of succession. The question becomes how to thin the familial herd without getting caught.
That’s the meat of Robert L. Freedman’s book and lyrics, which find Monty morphing from a naïve goof into a shrewd serial killer. Not your typical Broadway fare.
But in the hands of original Tony Award-winning director Darko Tresnjak, and a wonderfully talented cast, murder most foul can also be most funny.
As can a heart divided against itself, for Monty must juggle his love for both status-hungry mistress Sibella (Colleen McLaughlin), and his sweet-tempered distant cousin Phoebe (Erin McIntyre). One embodies physical perfection, the other virtuousness.
But first there are those pesky relatives to dispatch: an alcoholic vicar, a self-righteous first-born son, an overwrought actress with delusions of talent. There’s also a fitness freak and a Boer War veteran whose dinnertime spats with his own wife play like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf on amphetamines.
A Gentleman’s Guide is clearly not a musical for everyone given a moral compass that pivots toward immorality: murder, infidelity, and social climbing. And Steven Lutvak’s pedestrian score is closer to serviceable than superb.
But those elements are balanced by decided strengths, a set as inventive as any you’ve likely seen — portraits on the wall begin singing, rear screen projection captures everything from a man falling from a steeple to a horde of bees turning on their owner — and a cast equal to the plot’s frantic pace.
Blake Price provides a solid center for the action, but he’s largely the straight man in this nutty carnival. The clown prince role goes to James Taylor Odom, who essays eight roles here — men and women — most of whom meet with dead ends, pun intended.
Odom must not only change costumes in a matter of seconds, but assume different singing voices and personas. Sit close enough to the stage and you can see him sweating from the exertion, but he misses nary a beat. Simply put, his manic performance is jaw-dropping.
The supporting cast is also notable, especially Colleen Gallagher as the bickering Lady Eugenia, and Erin McIntyre whose strong voice manages to cut through the sometimes intrusive orchestra.
Awards are mostly subjective. But if you’ve got an appetite for something both visually engaging and spiritually subversive, consider this show a pretty sure bet.
Performances of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” continue at 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Tickets are $33, $53, and $63 Sunday evenings, $38, $58, and $68 Saturday and Sunday matinees, and $43, $63, and $73 Saturday evenings. Tickets are available at 419-381-8851, theaterleague.com, and in person at the Stranahan box office from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
The show includes adult themes and mature content and is suitable for ages 13 and older.
Contact Mike pearson at 419-724-6159 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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