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11/18/13

A Gentleman's Guide to the Cute and Quaint

When the second act of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder opened with a classic-sounding farce number, where the ensemble ponders why the entire D’Ysquith family is dying (no really, the song is called “Why Are All The D’Ysquith’s Dying?"), I just smiled at the adorbs.

Because A Gentleman’s Guide…, now open at the Walter Kerr Theater, is one quaint as hell show. “Quaint" is the operative word I keep thinking of and referring back to. Quaint.

It is as simple as this: the story - Monty, a long-lost heir to a royal family murders his way to the top for power and vengeance for his own mother’s passing - is pedestrian. Like, the first twenty-minutes setting up Monty’s backstory and motivations almost put me to a slumber. It felt like it was written in crayon.

Beyond that though, limited ambitions at least translate to results here. Partly because the two leads are fun to watch and the rest of the production is rendered with some old-time wit to it. There is a way to do classic and homage-y without insulting the intelligence of the audience or dating itself and fortunately, A Gentleman’s Guide... side-stepped those pitfalls (mostly).

Jefferson Mays is hauling ass playing all eight roles of the D’Ysquith family. His character changes and short turn-around time in the wings look as exhausting as one would imagine, but he pulls it off with precision and style. The D’Ysquith characters are, admittedly, trope-like, but then again, what can you do with character development when you only have a few minutes before he (or she) meet an untimely death. Still, Mays - channeling a Nathan Lane, scenery-chewing physical comedian - is having a ball up on stage.

And Bryce Pinkham and all those who love him get a nice little “Eff Yeah” fist pump watching him meet the United States of Mays head-on. His performance is perfectly calibrated with a mixture of sinister relentlessness and “well, that just happened” droll expressions. All of which is a nice counterpart to Mays beside him and the two of them play off each other quite well. One of the show’s highlights - a fun, innuendo number called “Better With a Man” - take the show to the next level on their talents alone.

I was also impressed with Darko Tresnjak’s direction. As I mentioned before, the book is under-written and less a few songs, the score/lyrics don’t leave much of an impression after leaving the theater. But I do remember a lot of Tesnjak’s vision and the "stage within the stage” set-up allowed for a lot of well-thoughtout design and versatility. Each D'Ysquith character came with its own locale… c’mon, that’s just fabulous. And a number in the second act, where Monty’s proverbial love-triangle comes to a head as his two ladies are pining for him while quarantined to separate nearby rooms, was a stroke of directing genius. The rest of the A Gentleman’s Guide… may not come together with such harmony nor have as many inspired bits, but when the two leads are compelling as hell - and I can see a young-adult appreciate the show as much as an elder the show is geared towards - then it is a worthwhile visit, as far as I’m concerned.


Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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