IVINS — A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is a witty new musical that everyone needs to see. Robert Freedman, who wrote the script and lyrics, was in the audience for this opening night, as well as the original Broadway director/choreographer, Peggy Hickey, who also directed this show. In fact, the production staff seemed to have all come straight from New York, as the show began with applause for their contribution. This new unique musical with so many moments of hilarity throughout was a delight to see.
Monty Navarro (Nick Tubbs) is a poor young man in love with a high class woman named Sibella Hallward (Gail Bennett) who is about ready to marry someone else for good looks and money. Navarro learns he is related to the famous D’Ysquith family (each member played by James Taylor Odom) about the same time that he hears his love will marry. Determined to have her, he plans to murder the 8 successors so he will be entitled to become the next Lord D’Ysquith. His plot works admirably as he is presented with almost easy ways to do away with each person, each more creative than the last. With only one person left in his way, things get complicated. While the premise sounds dark, it is performed and written in such an over-the-top hilarious way that it is extremely enjoyable.
Freedman’s writing is so perfect, and to have the cast perform it so clearly that I could hear every word in the songs when there were 10 people singing the words super fast and in unison was amazing. I can’t believe how difficult Freedman made the script and how much wittiness he packed into it. This show is definitely one to see repeatedly.
Director Hickey certainly knows how to make this show even more chock full of humor; she adds all sorts of blocking that emphasizes the over-exaggerated characters. At one moment Odom treats Tubbs’s head as a billiard ball and mimes shooting it into the pocket with his walking cane. I also love the sound effects, originally done by Daniel Schreier, like an opening box making a “boing” sound with characters bouncing back on the sound cue. Hickey also does the choreography, which was so fun to see, especially during the scenes with the full ensemble. At the beginning of the show, with their quick, precise movements, the ensemble slowly moves closer and closer to the audience, warning them to leave, with threatening farcical movements.
Tubbs has a very quick way of hitting each humorous moment with his body language. Tubbs as Navarro even has a very clear character arc that takes him from the lovesick, helpless man to a confident, dangerous man. As Navarro, Tubbs excitingly makes the show move forward, making me anticipate his next moves. When he sang, “Poison in My Pocket,” with a little hip lift on the word, “pocket,” emphasizing the location of poison, I about died laughing. His face was so serious. That is by far my favorite song, and I’m so glad Freedman put it in twice. It has been stuck in my head ever since I saw the show.
Odom is full of surprises, and I didn’t realize for a few scenes that he was the same man playing each D’Ysquith character. I am blown away by his ability to create a new, completely over-dramatic personality for each family member. His performance as the Reverend Lord Ezekial D’Ysquith is spectacular, because his bulging eyes and eccentric laugh make the first of many deaths so priceless, it makes waiting for each death more exhilarating than worrisome. At first, I was confused at how quickly Odom changed costume, wondering if he had a twin his costume changes were so fast. Those quick changes are another amazing way Freedman set up this script for hilarity.
I always love the Tuacahn‘s sets, and this set, done by Alexander Dodge, is no exception. There is a stage built upon the stage, with the old fashioned footlights and thick pleated red curtain. The stage-upon-a-stage is a good fit for this show, seeing as everyone is not only over-the-top, but is also often pretending and being tricky. The swing scene set with the beautiful flowers was delightful, and the two Greek-like statues on either side of the stage having their heads replaced with real singing heads from the cast is a grand choice. Seeing the heads looking sideways at the characters onstage as the heads sing their warnings to the characters is hilarious.
Because this show is something that is much better seen than described, I will simply beg that it be on the list of shows to watch this year, even if Tuacahn is a far drive for most. The show is so worth it. Getting to meet and appreciate many of the people after the show who put all the wonderful work into this production is a joy. I’m grateful for the chance to have experienced this show for the first time, and as one of my top 10 favorite shows, it will always be on my radar.