PERRY — In November of 2013, a fun farce of a musical entered the Broadway scene, mixing murder mystery with the tongue in cheek of the best dry British comedy. A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder (with music but Steven Lutvak, lyrics by Steven Lutvak and Robert Freedman, and a book by Robert Freedman) enjoyed success on Broadway and has also been a fun addition to the regional and community theatre scene. So when Heritage Theatre announced this was their fall production and that Leslie Richards was its director, I was happy to head up to Box Elder County to see how they would present this show as a community theatre company in an old refurbished church building.
The plot follows young Monty Navarro (played masterfully well by Matthew Kennedy), who discovers that his late mother was a part of the rich D’Ysquith family, but she was disowned for marrying his father. With the help of his mother’s friend, Ms. Shingle (played by Terressa Shreve), Monty works to take his rightful place in society by eliminating all of the members of the D’Ysquith family (played with amazing flair by Landon Weeks) who stand to inherit the family fortune before he does. Of course, as alluded to in the title, love enters into the story, both with Monty’s current love interest, Sibella (played by Courtney Fairbourn) and his distant cousin interest, Phoebe (played by Jacquelyn Abbott).
Richards, along with music director Terressa Shreve, have created a strong ensemble to guide the audience through the show. As the show opens, the ensemble comes in to deliver a warning song (entitled, appropriately, “A Warning to the Audience”) stating that the show might be disturbing. The diction of the ensemble members, their perfect harmonies, and the crisp costumes (designed by Damon Fuhriman and Brianna Taylor) helped me get into the right frame of mind for the true British comedy that would follow.
In the role of Monty Navarro, Kennedy’s singing was clear and pleasant to listen to and paired well with both Faribourn and Abbott, who both had lovely musically operatic voices that matched the musical style of the show. Fairbourn played Sibella in an amusing way, and her comedic timing in the song “I Don’t Know What I’ll Do” was delightful. She was also a good contrast to Abbott and her dignified grace in the song “Inside Out,” where she held character so well considering all the comedy going on around her. Of course, one of the best parts of the evening is the song “I’ve Decided to Marry You,” where these three characters were all able to show their skills and timing together.
However, the true star of the night was Weeks as the various members of the D’Ysquith family. The range that Weeks was able to show in playing each of these characters was astounding, and his ability to maintain each character was impeccable. Some of my favorite moments in Weeks’s performance were the song “Better With a Man,” the entire sequence with Lady Hyacinth, and his portrayal as Lord Adalbert. Weeks was able to develop each of his characters with only moments on stage, have different mannerisms and vocal patterns, and truly offer the audience some entertainment.
For a small theatre in a very small community in northern Utah, I was really impressed with some of the choices with the set design by Leslie Richards and Brianna Taylor. One unique visual aspect was the portraits in the hallway of the manor. While I have seen productions of A Gentleman’s Guide before, I cannot remember seeing that choice before, and it was one I really appreciated. Additionally, the swing in the garden was a fun and interesting element that was minimal yet effective.
Reviewing community theatre is an interesting endeavor. The tasks and goals of community theatre are different from professional theatre. Therefore, critics writing the reviews critics should have their goals aligned with the company’s. When reviewing shows like this, I often find myself wondering what leading actors do for a living and what motivated them to spend so much free time creating a show for their local community. And guess what? The neighborhood dentist or banker or teacher often sings on par with many of the professional actors I have seen over the years. The main difference comes down to money, time, and ability to focus all of ones energy in performing. The community at Heritage has put together a show that helped me forget my troubles and cheer on love and murder. (Can I say that?) The Heritage Theatre’s production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder reminded me that yes, it is important to attend, patronize, and review community theatre. Sometimes the shows are fantastic, like this one. Sometimes there are things to improve. But mainly, shows like this bring people together to have a communal artistic experience, and critics like me need to make a record of that art.