Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
March 22, 2013
All of us have irritating relatives that we could just strangle at times. But most of us don’t act on our homicidal impulses.
Then there’s sweet, unassuming Monty Navarro. He’s dirt-poor, and his main squeeze only wants to marry a rich man. Then, he finds out that his recently deceased mother was the disinherited daughter of nobility, cast out because she married beneath her. Now, Monty learns, there are only eight people ahead of him in line for the earldom. So, love – and revenge – conquer all.
When we first meet him, Monty is behind bars, putting the finishing touches on a tell-all memoir, his final act before being put to death for a murder he didn’t even commit! But he was responsible for all the others, which he gleefully and gruesomely recounts to us in his diary entitled, of course, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.”
And we’re off on this mad spree of Edwardian mayhem: Monty’s inexorable advance toward aristocracy and ardor (he gets the girl – and another one, to boot!).
The wacky plotline is based on a 1907 novel called “Israel Rank,” by Roy Horniman , which was also the source material for the 1949 film, “Kind Hearts and Coronets.” For the record, the musical is much funnier than the movie, but it preserves the delirious comic conceit of having one actor play all the nasty, ghastly, inventively dying D’Ysquiths . In the film, it was Alec Guinness. Onstage at the Old Globe, which is co-producing this irresistible world premiere with Connecticut’s Hartford Stage, we’re treated to the neck-snapping chameleon magic of former San Diegan Jefferson Mays, whose performance is, yes, a tour de farce .
The whole setup is an English music hall, replete with a whimsical set-within-a-set, and the kind of musical pastiche typical of that hugely popular early 20th century variety-show genre, a kind of English Ed Sullivan presentation, with considerably more bawd and double entendres , delightfully in evidence here, too.
The story is absurd, but Monty, as played by Ken Barnett, is jolly good company, and his lady friends are exceptional: the delicious Lisa O’Hare as superficial blonde Sibella and Chilina Kennedy as Phoebe, her more restrained brunette counterpart. Their trio, “I’ve Decided to Marry You,” is one of the farcical high points of the production. The lyrics are dazzlingly clever throughout, co-written by composer Steven Lutvak and librettist Robert L. Freedman. Lutvak’s score ranges widely, from waltz to tango to patter-song, a smart, nimble amalgam of Sondheim intellect and Gilbert & Sullivan acrobatics.
What pulls it all together is the brilliant direction of Darko Tresnjak, former Old Globe co-artistic director, who’s devised a zillion hilarious ways to make the silliness soar.
Prepare yourself for a hugely entertaining evening of ingenuity and inspiration, that only a sourpuss – or a D’Ysquith — wouldn’t enjoy.
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” runs through April 14 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.
©2013 PAT LAUNER