“For those of you of weaker constitution, for those of you who may be faint of heart,” the black-clad chorus of A Gentleman’s Guide to Murder warns in the show’s opening number, “this is a tale of revenge and retribution—so if you’re smart, before we start, you’d best depart.”
Well, I wouldn’t call my constitution strong—I was once nearly unable to review a showing of The Purge because I had to keep covering my eyes—but I couldn’t be happier I didn’t heed the grim notice. The Hippodrome’s Broadway Series production of Gentleman’s Guide was among my favorite shows I’ve seen this year, and by far the theatre’s best of the season.
The Tony Award-winning musical follows of the evolution (or rather, devolution) of Montague “Monty” Navarro (Kevin Massey), whose mother’s death brings with it the discovery that he is among the aristocratic D’Ysquith family. Monty, as it happens, is but eight D’Ysquiths away from earlship—and a status befitting the beautiful but shallow object of his affection, Sibella (a sharp, sensual Kristen Beth Williams). The path to ascendance? It’s bloody…hilarious.
Massey, who rarely if ever leaves the stage, is a delightful and handsome Monty. His expressive face and fourth-wall-breaking jocularity draws the audience in and endears them to him, even as his character grows increasingly depraved.
But the most jaw-dropping performance (and indeed the show’s central conceit) is the chameleon-like acting of John Rapson, who plays all eight D’Ysquiths standing between Monty and his desired position. With the help of star stylist Nadine Hettel, Rapson transitions seamlessly from decrepit old priest Reverend Lord Ezekiel D’Ysquith to socialite Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith to foxhunting Lord Asquith D’Ysquith, Sr. (and many more) from scene to scene. The costume changes, which Hettel says range from 17 seconds to a minute and a half each, are so fast and so complete that I found myself forgetting from time to time that Rapson was indeed the versatile face behind each new character.
Though Rapson’s performances (and each of his untimely deaths) are incredible, however, it’s a testament to the rest of the talented cast that they were not show-stealing. The love triangle between Monty, Sibella and Phoebe D’Ysquith (Kristen Hahn, a goosebump-inducing soprano) is absurdly charming in its own right, and the chorus’ rare appearances were consistently delightful.
In short: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is a deadly good must-see.