Saturday, March 15, 2014


This is an unusual circumstance for me. When I first listened to the cast recording for A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, I knew nothing about the show. Usually, I'm the guy who researches every show that interests me and knows virtually everything about it before I even see it or hear the music from it. But for whatever reason, I didn't immediately gravitate toward this show. But when I heard the cast album was released, I said "What the hell!" and bought the thing.

What a delicious surprise.

In true Edwardian theatrical style, A Gentleman's Guide is the story of Monty Navarro, who suddenly learns that he's actually a member of the D'ysquith Family, a family of great estate and wealth. Thing is, there are 8 people standing in Monty's way that would inherit any fortune before he does. So his plan is, naturally, to kill every person ahead of him in line.

Sounds kind of grim, doesn't it? Not in the least. When A Gentleman's Guide isn't being hysterically funny, it's still all kinds of fun.

The score, in true Edwardian musical style and in the tradition of the greats like Gilbert and Sullivan, consists of pastiche and patter songs that are endlessly tuneful, catchy, and clever. Written by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, the score doesn't resist pastiche but rather full-on embraces it... and it really, really works. The lyrics are full of clever word play as well as twists and turns you don't expect, which works to remarkably engaging effect. And even though their is a cozy familiarity in the music itself, it's so aware of itself that it just doesn't matter and the tunes are memorable despite the fact that we've all heard songs just like them before. What a feat! It's a score as good as any to emerge on Broadway in the past decade, and proves that a throwback to good old fashioned musical theatre writing can still be successful.

And the performers carrying this work on their shoulders have an infectious and endless amount of fun... especially with the stand out work by Jefferson Mays, an actor of incredible versatility who plays a total of eight distinct characters and finds ways of making each specific and unique. And, for a man who isn't usually seen in musicals, he does an impressive job with his songs and makes up for lack of vocal training with his complete commitment and strong acting choices. As our leading man, Bryce Pinkham's bright and tight tenor lends itself beautifully to the music and he is just as much of a joy as any to listen to. A highlight of the album is Better With a Man, a duet between Mr. Pinkham and Mr. Mays that sticks in the brain almost instantly. Also worthy of mention is Lisa O'Hare, with a gorgeous soprano voice and a winning, funny, and huge presence as Sibella Hallword. She shines with I Don't Know What I'd Do in a performance full of wonderful narcissism and sensuality.

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder is a welcomed break from the barrage of pop and rock scores emerging on Broadway, and it's commendable for being such a strong, accomplished work of musical theatre despite the fact that it escapes innovation. Not only is this cast album, produced to the usual excellent standards of Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlight Records, memorable and catchy, but it's also an absurdly fun album to listen to. What more could you want?

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