LOGAN — Do you happen to be eighth in line for inheriting a large family fortune and need to “accidentally” un-alive some family members? Come see A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder at the Utah Festival of Opera and Musical Theatre for a delightful demonstration of how to inherit a fortune. Directed at UFO&MT by George Pinney, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is full of laughter and mischievous plotting.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is a musical (based on the novel by Roy Horniman, with music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak and lyrics and book by Robert L. Freedman) which first premiered in 2012. Set in England in the early 1900s, Monty Navarro (played by Stefan Espinosa) is visited by his mother’s old friend Miss Marietta Shingle (played by Sarah-Nicole Carter) after the passing of his mother. Miss Shingle tells him that his mother was born into the very wealthy D’Ysquith family but was disinherited when she married his father. She also says that he is actually eighth in line to inherit the family fortune and become the next Earl of Highhurst. Monty decides to take his future into his own hands to get to know his estranged cousins. Throughout the next few months, he may or may not have been involved in their “accidental” deaths and becomes next in line to the earldom. Monty also finds himself torn between his love for an old flame, Sibella Hallward (played by Vanessa Ballam), and his new love Phoebe D’Ysquith (played by Amy Owens); who happens to not be between him and the family inheritance.
Espinosa plays the lead role of Monty Navarro with absolute mastery and finesse. His English accent and mannerisms are refined yet comical when he is thoughtfully conniving to take down the D’Ysquith family. Espinosa’s far off looks in “Foolish to Think” portray a dreamer who is in love with a woman who will not have him unless he can “alter the cause of destiny” to become a rich man.
As played by Ballam, the lovely and seductive Sibella is a high-born yet silly girl who seems to be in love with Monty but will not marry him because he is poor. She marries another man for his money, but finds her husband boring and that she is still in love with Monty. Ballam radiates with charm and confidence as she sings “Poor Monty,” but is furious with jealousy as Phoebe boldly walks into Monty’s apartment and declares that she has decided to marry him. Owens sings “I Decided to Marry You” with a beautiful operatic soprano voice and is sweet and naïve. Espinosa is fantastic throughout the song, as he is caught between Sibella in one room and Phoebe in the parlor. Running back and forth between two rooms to keep each woman happy and make sure neither of them walks in on the other, Espinosa’s exhausting feat is comical and delightful to watch.
Curt Olds plays the eight members of the Family D’Ysquith who are in line for the Earldom before Monty. All of the characters were superbly played, yet some of the memorable moments were when Olds played the Reverend Lord Ezekiel D’Ysquith. Olds’s facial expressions were comical and outrageous, as he treacherously walked along the belfries of the church and reached out in terror as time paused and Monty decided not to help save Ezekiel. Olds was disdainful and snobby as the Earl of Highhurst in “I Don’t Understand the Poor;” the lyrics of the song are ridiculous and made even more comical as the ensemble joined in the singing through cutouts in the family portraits like the moving pictures in Hogwarts castle. Dressed as an old English woman, Olds played Lady Hyacinth in “Lady Hyacinth Abroad” with hysterical results to her devastating expeditions of philanthropy to save the poor.
The entire cast was dressed in exquisite costumes designed by Jess Wallace. However, the costumes that Olds wore playing all the different D’Ysquith family were especially amusing. From the old lady costume for Hyacinth D’Ysquith, to the muscle man costume with added chest hair for Major D’Ysquith, to the red riding jacket of the Earl of Highhurst with his skinned fox that Olds carried around and petted, all were terribly wonderful. Olds had a lot of quick changes to complete, as he changed from character to character in a Houdini instant.
Set design by Dennis Hassan manufactured a detailed hallway with two doors which Monty ran between in his apartment. Projections designer Michael Francis produced many elaborate scenes throughout the play. One in particular was a projection of a large church that Monty and Reverend D’Ysquith climb. The projection seems to go up and up as Espinosa and Olds pretend to climb circular stairs to the top of a tower. As the Reverend falls, the tower spins out of control and ends with a startling portrayal of cobblestones and blood behind the poor dead Reverend. Lighting by John Mitchell set a bold mood with pink spotlights on a blue background during “Foolish to Think.” The harsh spotlights and jail-like clanging sounds (designed by Bryan Richards) during the accusations at the trial were melodramatic and fitting for a great trial scene.
The show was completed with an amazing full orchestra, which filled the small music hall with mysterious and sly music. Conductor Arthur Bosarge also interacted with Monty as they comically passed letters throughout the show.
Overall, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder at the Utah Festival of Opera and Musical Theatre was a drop dead riot. Making light of death and murder has never been so fun. Hurry to get your tickets, as they are going fast. The clock is ticking, and you never know how much time you will have left — or who may be nearby with a little poison in their pocket.