On Tuesday night, Broadway’s Tony Award-winning musical, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” made its Madison debut at the Overture Center for the Arts.
The Broadway production’s second tour of the uproarious musical kicked off just a week ago, with Madison being only its second stop.
“Gentleman’s Guide” is your classic rags to riches tale… along with murder, revenge and, of course, sweeping romance. The story follows Monty Navarro, played by the charming Blake Price, on his journey to his estranged family’s throne. The distant heir to the D’Ysquith family fortune, Monty plans to assassinate his way up the line of succession — eight relatives away. While plotting his scheme, Monty also must juggle his mistress, Sibella (who’s almost as manipulative as Monty himself), his fiancée (who’s actually his cousin, but nobody really seems to mind) and the persistent possibility of landing behind bars.
The opening number is a fabulous ensemble song warning the audience members of “weaker constitution” to depart, for this is a tale of revenge. The first act contained mostly exposition and started slightly slower than anticipated. The complicated plot takes some explaining to understand, however, so this small detail can be excused.
Monty slowly knocks off the D’Ysquith lineage one by one through hilarious hijinks: sawing a hole in an icy lake to cause one D’Ysquith to fall in, letting a reverend fall down a church stairwell, sending a philanthropic old woman to disease ridden, precarious countries (and when that fails, pushing her into a lake), letting a bodybuilder peril underneath a barbell — you name it.
The eight D’Ysquith family members in line to become the esteemed Earl of Highhurst are all portrayed by the same actor: the immensely talented and hilarious James Taylor Odom. From playing a priest, to a crazy old lady, to an even crazier bodybuilder, to a closeted gay bee-keeper, Odom’s range in ability is astounding, not to mention it creates some of the funniest moments on stage.
While both Price and Taylor Odom were fun to watch, the females were the ones who stole the show. Colleen McLaughlin’s exquisitely devious Sibella and Erin McIntyre’s innocent, yet surprisingly scheming, Phoebe had many amazing vocal moments. When the two forces were combined in duets and trios, it was like the audience was being hit with a beautiful wall of sound.
The same goes for when the entire cast was united. Besides the introductory caution to the observers of the musical, a highpoint of the show was the song entitled, “Why Are All the D’Ysquiths Dying?” The cast opens act two at yet another funeral for yet another D’Ysquith. Growing in curiosity and annoyance of the continual deaths, the ensemble states, “To lose one relative, one can certainly forgive, but how can you excuse losing two, or three, or four, or seven?!”
The second act is where the musical really gains steam. One of the funniest scenes in the show is between Sibella and Monty, whose affair has continued, as Phoebe arrives to propose to Monty. Sibella is in the bathroom while Phoebe is in the parlor; the two rooms separated only by a narrow hallway where Monty finds himself keeping the two women apart. Keeping his women straight is challenging for Monty, but it seems to be harder for him to keep his murders in order. With only one person left between him and becoming Earl, the pressure is on and the audience can feel the end nearing.
The musical’s costume and lighting design is wonderfully vibrant, perfectly complementing the animated, energetic attitude of the show. The set didn’t seem to completely fill the Overture Center’s giant stage, but this is perhaps due to the logistics of creating a set that travels across the country.
The beautiful theater was packed for the engagement nonetheless, and the audience was on its feet by the curtain call.