Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 22, 2012

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through November 11, 2012
by Shera Cohen

Attending the opening of a world premier of any play is pretty special. “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” is exactly that – special, extra special. While most theatre goers are not familiar with the names Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, they undoubtedly soon will be. This duo, who has penned the book and music, has only begun to see their play’s full potential.

Photo: Joan Marcus
Our protagonist, boy-next-door jobless Monty is a young Englishman in 1909 whose only kin, his mom, just died. Poor Monty. Yet, surprise – unbeknownst to Monty, he discovers his rich lineage. Therein is the wonderfully funny story of just how delightful it is to become a serial killer. With eight heirs in line ahead of Monty, the lad has much deadly mischief to achieve to get the keys to the manor.

Told as flashback, this reviewer had a personal flashback. Hmm, this world premier sounds a bit familiar. “Guide” is, indeed, similar to the 1949 Alec Guinness movie “Kind Hearts and Coronets” with Guinness portraying all of the heirs (male and female) as they are bumped off one by one. At Hartford Stage, actor Jefferson Mays takes on the herculean and hysterical task. Mays has even more work to do than Guinness because he must also sing and dance. Playing off of Ken Barnett’s Monty, this duo attacks the brunt of the script, seemingly effortlessly.

Darko Tresnjak’s direction is precise in his tableaux pictures, exaggerating the movements and caricatures. In particular, the numerous death scenes are clever and whimsical. The creative crew deserves bravos on set design, lighting, sound, and costumes. A colorful vaudeville-like set within a set with changing scenes and backdrops creates a cartoon atmosphere.

One suggestion would be to make a few judicious cuts solely for the sake of time. While there is not a single song that should be removed (the lyrics are especially integral), many are too long. By dropping a paragraph or two in each tune, this perfectly delicious show can be perfect.

The play’s first song, “A Warning to the Audience” [to go home] is, of course, not heeded. No one should leave the theatre until our serial killer hero and his eight victims receive standing ovations.