Intense drama. Complex characters. Challenging themes.
You won’t find any of these in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, running through Oct. 27 at Rohnert Park’s Spreckels Performing Arts Center. What you will find is a very entertaining, macabre musical that’s a perfect theatrical compliment to the Halloween season.
Upon his mother’s passing, Monty Navarro (Andrew Smith) finds out he’s actually a member of the distinguished D’Ysquith family. The family disowned his mother after she ran off with a (shudder) musician and Monty is actually ninth in line for the Earldom of Highhurst.
After being tossed aside by his shallow, materialistic girlfriend Sibella (Madison Genovese) for a wealthier man, Monty seeks to improve his lot in life and win her back. He contacts the D’Ysquith family in hopes of gaining a position with their firm, but they reject him. While seeking the support of a member of the family who’s a clergyman, circumstances arise that make it clear to Monty that the only way he’ll ascend to his rightful position in the family is to knock off those who precede him.
And so it goes for Reverend Lord Ezekial D’Ysquith, Asquith D’Ysquith Jr., Henry D’Ysquith, Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith, Major Lord Bartholomew D’Ysquith, Lady Salome D’Ysquith Pumphrey, Lord Asquith D’Ysquith Sr. and Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith—all played by the delightful Tim Setzer, and most dispatched in clever, amusing ways. Will Monty—now Lord Montague—get away with it?
The plot may sound familiar, as the novel upon which it’s based was also the source material for the 1949 film Kind Hearts and Coronets starring Alec Guinness in his pre–Obi Wan days. Turned into a Broadway musical by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, it won four Tonys in 2014, including Best Musical.
Director Michael Ross chose the relatively small cast judiciously. He assembled a crackerjack ensemble composed of North Bay regulars (Shawna Eiermann, Eileen Morris, Amy Webber, Erik Weiss), local young, emerging talent (Michael Arbitter, Emily Thomason) and some new faces (David Casper, Maeve Smith). All perform excellently.
Inventive stagecraft (Chris Schloemp’s projection design, in particular), nice period costuming by Skipper Skeoch, clever bits of choreography by Michella Snider and solid musical direction by Jim Coleman make for a terrific show. The few glitches that occurred on opening night will, hopefully, vanish quickly in the run.
Simply put, this show kills.
Rating (out of 5):★★★★½
‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder’ runs through Oct. 27 at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Friday–Saturday, 7:30pm; Sunday, 2pm; Thursday, Oct. 24, 7:30pm. $12–$36. 707.588.3400. spreckelsonline.com