SANDY — Hale Centre Theatre often snatches up the producing rights for shows fresh off their Broadway productions. Their most recent endeavor, the 2013 Tony award winning A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, is a zany and hilariously macabre production that will leave audiences in stitches.
After being warned by the theater’s “ushers” that the show is not one for those with weak constitutions, the audience meets Montague “Monty” Navarro. After his mother’s death, Monty is left penniless and in grief with the fact his love interest, Sabella, does not reciprocate his affections. He is informed by a mysterious washer woman that his mother was not always left destitute and that she was in fact a member of the D’Ysquith family, a prominent and wealthy English family. Monty’s mother eloped with a Spanish musician years before and the D’Ysquith family disinherited her and left her in the gutter. Learning of his heritage, Monty is then informed he is ninth in line to become the Earl of Highhurst, and therefore owner of all the riches of the D’Ysquith family. All that stands in his way? Eight members of the D’Ysquith family, whom Monty decides to murder in order to gain his earldom. Along they way, he meets a member of the D’Ysquith family, Phoebe, with whom he falls in love with. Hilarity ensues as the dark humor grabs you in the first few minutes and never lets go.
This show calls for some versatile acting from all of the players involved. From the ensemble up to the leading roles, all actors must be able to portray an array of over-the-top characters. However, this show became known for having all 8 members of the entire D’Ysquith family (male and female) being portrayed by one actor. This role of the D’Ysquith family is a character actor’s dream come true, as the role requires the actor to don many different personas, accents, wigs, dentures, and costumes at a steady and quick pace. This was executed hilariously and seamlessly by Robert Moffat. Every member of the family he portrayed had a distinct and hilarious personality that made the comical air palpable. At one point, Moffat came on stage wearing a large fur coat, hat, and wig, said his lines as that particular character, exited, and then in literally two lines came back on stage completely changed into somebody completely new but equally as hilarious. It was an awing performance. Every member of the family he portrayed was hilarious to watch. In particular, my favorite characters were that of Henry D’Ysquith the beekeeper and the drunken Reverend Lord Ezekial D’Ysquith, who (spoiler) comically falls and splats to his death on stage.
Equaling Moffat’s great performance was that of the three main characters in the main love triangle, Monty (played by James Bounous), Sibella (played by Brittany Sanders), and Phoebe (played by Cecily Ellis-Bills). All three had great comedic timing and their character’s comedic arcs were well constructed and executed. Additionally, all three had beautiful vocals along with mannerisms that made the farce much more fun to watch. One of the funniest and most enjoyable numbers of the evening was when this trio sang “I’ve Decided to Marry You.” In particular, James Bounous was a delight to watch, and I secretly rooted for his victory over the D’Ysquith family as Monty discreetly takes them out in hilarious fashion. Bounous portrayed Monty in such a way that I felt completely justified with his actions in murdering innocent people.
In a farce such as this, the book and music are key, and writer Robert L. Freedman and composer Steven Lutvak have created a masterpiece of the stage. The show has something for everyone’s different comedic tastes. With a touch of Monty Python and a dash of Sweeney Todd, the show has both witty and quick quips as well as simple extreme physical comedy. The murders are more slapstick than gory and had me practically wheezing with laughter with every gruesome end to the members of the D’Ysquith family. And despite the simple plot that is worth watching unfold firsthand.
I would be remiss to not mention the spectacular set design by Jason Baldwin and the projection and video designs by Ian Johnston and Bobby Gibson, respectively. The proscenium was absolutely breathtaking and gorgeous, showcasing a large Victorian style façade. The projection screen on the back of the stage wall was also used well to showcase the many different locations throughout the show. And, as Hale always does, there were a few technical surprises that were thrown in that made the show’s zaniness much more prominent. One particular example was when Monty first goes to the Highhurst estate. The paintings on the wall of past D’Ysquith family members sat still as he entered. And then, in Monty’s mind it would seem, the paintings began to suddenly sing on cue and warn him to turn back, in the style of Harry Potter and the magical moving portraits.
Hale Centre Theatre has constructed a comedy farce that was a delight to behold, and I would certainly recommend A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder to anyone who has the constitution to see it. From the acting, singing, set design, and comedic timing, one will certainly have a great, fun-filled evening.