The theater goes dark, signaling the top of the performance. As the lights slowly come up on the stage, the ensemble enters dressed in black from head to toe – complete with black sunglasses and umbrellas. In unison, they begin to sing:
“For those of you of weaker constitution
For those of you who may be faint of heart
This is a tale of revenge and retribution
So if you're smart
Before we start
You'd best depart
You'd best depart”
The audience has their warning, and from there the choice is up to them. They can leave, or they can remain, and experience a story full of love, dark humor, and of course, murder.
Porchlight Music Theatre presents A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder:
Based on the novel by Roy Horniman, the musical comedy follows Monty Navarro, (Andrés Enriquez), a young man who learns he is a long-lost heir to the D’Ysquith family line and fortune. There are eight family members (all portrayed with distinct physicality and top-notch comedic timing by Matt Crowle) that sit between him and the Earl position. Monty sets off on a murdering spree to eliminate each of them until he holds the power for himself.
However, this is not just a story about murder, but also one of love. As Monty works his way to the top of the D’Ysquith line, he must navigate his feelings for Sibella Hallward (Emily Goldberg), the woman who was only ready to love him when he came into a fortune, and Phoebe D’Ysquith (Ann Delaney, with a stunning soprano), who may be his cousin, but is ready to love Monty for whom he is. Gentleman’s Guide’s script is farcical in nature, full of over-the-top comedy and a darkly humorous score that kept the opening night audience laughing from start to finish. The musical features hits including You’re a D’Ysquith, I Don’t Know What I’d Do, Why Are All the D’Ysquith’s Dying, and Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun.
Theatrical Musical Numbers
Further lending itself to the farce, the musical score (created by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak) is comprised of a mix of dark, foreboding numbers, as well as overly dramatic (and at times bawdy) comedy that create an exciting contrast.
A Warning to the Audience kicks off the show, and appropriately sets the audience up for that which they are about to see. The lyrics are cheeky as they warn the audience to leave if they lack the stomach to handle the story of blood and revenge that will follow. The stage is masked in darkness - complete with Costume Designer Jeff Hendry’s choices for the ensemble. While the number is meant to be almost frightening, the comedy is still ever present – a contrast that the ensemble brings to life through precise physicality, and a theme that encompasses the production.
Poison in My Pocket marks one of the earlier murders in Monty’s crusade. He follows Asquith Jr. (Crowle) and his mistress, Miss Barley (Rachel Klippel) to their snowy getaway, and watches as they decide to go for a romantic ice skate. Monty decides his murder tool will be a saw, and he creates a hole in the ice in which Asquith Jr. will fall. When the victim and his mistress fall into the hole, they end up jumping back out, only to fall in again. The sequence repeats three times before Monty is finally successful – a string of events that is hilarious to watch unfold, particularly as Crowle makes each attempt to save his life larger than the last.
Creatively Crafted Production
As a musical with one man playing all the members of one family, Gentleman’s Guide is very aware of itself. From the paranoid Lord Asquith D’Ysquith, to the adventurous Lady Salomé D’Ysquith Pumphrey, and the quiet, timid Hery D’Ysquith, Matt Crowle plays each D’Ysquith family member with distinct physicality and characterization, which in this writer’s view is certainly no easy task. Director and Choreographer Stephen Shellhardt, Associate Director and Choreographer Aubrey Adams, and their artistic team take full advantage of those larger than life, clever opportunities for moments of physical comedy and reveals.
I’ve Decided to Marry You is a prime example, and takes place inside Monty’s home. Phoebe enters insisting that she simply must marry him. Delaney’s portrayal is full of innocence and kindness, creating the potential for a deeply moving and sweet proposal. However, in the other room, Sibella waits for Monty to return, hoping that no one catches her in the midst of her extramarital affair. Goldberg’s portrayal is full of strength, creating a character that knows how to command an audience, and Monty must keep running back and forth between rooms in order to keep both women happy and unaware of the other’s presence. Shellhardt and Adam’s number is fast-paced and full of tension, completely playing into the overall farce of the musical.
A hysterical script and top-notch ensemble make A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, in this writer’s opinion, a night of non-stop fun.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Running through March 16, 2019
Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 8:00pm
Saturdays at 4:00pm and 8:00pm
Sundays at 2:00pm and 6:00pm
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with intermission
Ruth Page Center for the Arts
1016 N. Dearborn St.
Chicago, IL 60610
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.