Chicago Theatre Review
You’re a D’Ysquith
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder – Broadway in Chicago
The magnificent production that earned the Tony, Drama Desk, Drama League and the Outer Critics Circle Awards for the Best Musical of 2014 is now a much-welcomed Broadway in Chicago visitor, only in the Windy City for a short time. This comedy, which borrows its plot from the 1949 British film, “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” which was, in turn, adapted from Roy Horniman’s novel The Autobiography of a Criminal, is as over-the-top as a play can be. With an operetta-like score, composed by Steven Lutvak, a book by Robert L. Freedman and lyrics by both gentlemen, this delightfully madcap musical is more fun than a day spent at Faulty Towers.
Clad in Edwardian mourning, the play begins with the ensemble earnestly warning the audience through the Prologue that “those of you of weaker constitution” might want to leave now, due to the disturbing events that are to follow. The plot of this fast-paced black comedy takes off like hounds in a fox hunt, revolving around the exploits of a young man named Monty Navarro. The gentleman’s shocked to learn from a mysterious elderly woman named Miss Shingle that he is a member of the D’Ysquith dynasty, the wealthiest and most aristocratic family in the vicinity. He’s told that his mother was disinherited from the family because she married for love, not fortune. However, with the recent death of his dearly departed mother, Monty is now ninth in line to inherit the prestigious title of Earl of Highhurst. However, it’s pointed out, eight others stand in front of his good fortune, and only should they befall some kind of calamity would Monty become royalty, thus inheriting the family estate and its fortune. With this kind of setup, it’s obvious what will soon transpire.
Songs filled with delicious lyrics, smacking delightfully of Gilbert & Sullivan wit, fill this production. Staged with unbounded energy by brilliant director Darko Tresnjak, a talented cast, dressed in the most beautifully detailed and frivolous costumes by Linda Cho, romp across a giant puppet theater-like set, designed by Alexander Dodge. Nothing in this play is ever taken seriously. It’s pure, mindless fun for the audience, wondering how each victim will meet his maker.
Kevin Massey is topnotch as Monty Navarro. This handsome young actor has a vocal range and oratory expertise that’s stellar. Mr. Massey is tireless as he races from locale to locale, always one step ahead of his waiting target. With so many patter songs to master in this show, Massey easily earns his applause by the end of the night. He’s matched by the splendid, unbelievably mind-boggling portrayal by John Rapson of all the D’Ysquiths. There are nine separate roles, both male and female, that this versatile and very funny actor must assume. And assume he does, with much vim and vigor. Mr. Rapson, whose comic skills steal the show, must be seen to be fully appreciated. Rapson is hilarious in every role. Some of his many characters include a nearsighted member of the clergy showing off his church bell tower, a philanthropic Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith, for whom the world is her playground for charitable acts, a philandering Asquith D’Ysquith, finding illicit romance whilst ice skating with his latest flame and as Henry, a gay young beekeeper, whose charges sting the hand that tends them.
Henry D’Ysquith’s pretty, young sister, Phoebe, is played with coy classiness and prissy perfection by Adrienne Eller. She and the beautiful Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella Hallward, the money and prestige-driven rival for Monty’s heart, share the honor of having the most beautiful voices heard on the Bank of America stage. Their comic talents are matched by a singular command of style. Mary Van Arsdel, as Miss Shingle, begins and concludes Monty’s saga as a kind of working class Lady Bracknell, with a touch of Hyacinth Bucket thrown in, for good measure. Her expository song, “You’re a D’Ysquith” is a classic.
There’s so much to recommend in this wonderful, waggish and whimsical production. There’s romance, intrigue, lovely songs and beautiful sets and costumes. The pace is energetic and Darko Tresnjak’s spot-on direction never lets down. With a cast of theatrical artists at the top of their game, this much lauded musical is simply a night of finely-honed comedy, with a capital C.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 30-October 11 by Broadway in Chicago at the Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe, Chicago.
Tickets are available at all BIC Box Offices, by calling the BIC Ticket Line at 800-775-2000 at all Ticketmaster retail locations and by going to www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.