Kathryn Kerr, Stephen Allred, Ruth Wong-Miller, in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. Photo Nanc Price.
My previous entry was about the Teatro la Quindicina quirky tongue-in-cheek period piece Evelyn Strange. And tonight I saw another quirky tongue-in-cheek period piece – Foote in the Door’s production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. This musical, by Steven Lutvak and Robert L Freedman, won several Tony awards in 2014 – I was actually in New York that spring and could have seen it, but I picked shows I’d heard of instead. And I got to see this production completely unspoiled.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is set in England in 1907. The premise of it is that Montague Navarro (Stephen Allred) discovers after his mother’s death that he’s distantly related to nobility, in fact being something like ninth in line to an earldom, although his mother had been disowned for marrying his late father, “a Castilian … and a musician!” All this information is provided by his mother’s old friend Miss Shingle (Nicole English), paying an unexpected visit. He sets out to meet his rich relations, hoping they will give him a job, but then temptation, ambition, and a series of very strange coincidences lead him to try benefiting more directly from being only a few deaths away from the title and the property.
His girlfriend Sibella (Kathryn Kerr) is a hilariously shallow and self-centred woman, but Montague doesn’t seem to mind, continuing to be captivated by her after she gets married. Meanwhile, he continues to meet various members of the D’Ysquith family, many of whom (all played by Russ Farmer) then meet untimely deaths. Most of them seem equally unlikeable, demonstrating various stereotypes about the turn-of-that-century English upper-class. The career do-gooder Hyacinth, seeking a novel charity that hasn’t been claimed by her friends and speaking of her prospective beneficiaries in appallingly patronizing terms, was particularly memorable. At intermission, I was thinking that I’d only seen one D’Ysquith who actually seemed nice, cousin Phoebe (Ruth Wong-Miller), but that maybe I should distrust that thought.
I thought I’d figured out where the rest of the plot would go … but it didn’t, exactly. And the plot twists of the second act delighted me.
My two favourite scenes were the ice-skating scene (who knew that graceful ensemble dancing – and some not so graceful wobbles by Asquith D’Ysquith Junior – behind some snowbank set pieces could so easily convey skating on a pond?) and the scene where Montague is entertaining both Sibella and Phoebe in different rooms of his apartment, The hallway set piece with the two doors, and the way Allred’s character uses it while he sings to play out wanting both women and trying to keep them away from each other, were just brilliant.
Set and lighting design were by Leland Stelck. My companions and I were impressed by how many set pieces shifted silently and rapidly behind the drapery to convey many different locations, particularly given that the production had relocated to Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre on Gateway from their original performance venue three weeks ago due to the flooding at La Cité Francophone. I think the OSPAC stage is not as deep or wide, but the ensemble of eleven never looked crowded. The lighting design must have been more challenging at OSPAC, which has a relatively low ceiling and doesn’t seem to have as many lighting instruments.
We also admired the period costumes including hairdos and hats (Betty Kolodziej). The members of the ensemble (Kelsey Voelker, Shauna Rebus, Lynnéa Bartel-Nickel, Jason Duiker, Aaron Schaan, Brian Ault) played several background characters each, changing costumes and accents as needed – my favourite ensemble bit was when they were all serving at a dinner, like in an episode of Bridgerton.
The production was directed by Ron Long, with musical direction by Daniel Belland, and an orchestra of 13. The melodies were catchy with some Gilbert-and-Sullivan-esque rhymes, and strong voices among the cast.
Advance tickets to the four remaining shows (Jun 16-18 at 7:30 and Jun 18 at 2 pm) are available here and going fast. Door sales (if available) will start 45 minutes before showtime.
If you’ve already seen it, or you don’t mind being completely spoiled, this webpage reviews (and ranks) all the deaths, as staged in the original Broadway production.