A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder: Slow torture at the Hippodrome - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder: Slow torture at the Hippodrome

Kevin Massey and Mary VanArsdel in the touring production of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder.

If there was ever an apt admonishment to set the stage for a Broadway musical, it occurs in the opening moments of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder – the current production at the Hippodrome Theatre. As the curtain ascends, the mourning-clad ensemble entreats the audience:

“For those of you of weaker constitution
For those of you who may be faint of heart
This is a tale of revenge and retribution
So if you’re smart
Before we start
You’d best depart
You’d best depart”

Ninety ho-hum minutes and 13 trite numbers later, the curtain finally collapses on Act I.

The fault for remaining was ours alone. Alas – we had been duly warned.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (GGLAM) could have – and should have – been much better. The book, by Robert L. Freedman, is a loose adaptation of Roy Horniman’s 1907 novel, Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal. The novel tells the story of a man (Israel Rank) who climbs a twisted social ladder by knocking off six assorted cousins in a quest to become Earl of Gascoyne.

John Rapson plays an assortment of parts in A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. (courtesy)

John Rapson plays an assortment of parts in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.

Dark at times and in tone anti-Semitic, the novel was adapted for the screen some forty years later as the black-comedy classic, Kind Hearts and Coronets – a film that featured the late Alec Guinness playing eight different members of the ill-fated D’Ascoynes family.

For the 2013 musical version of GGLAM, Freedman freely gleaned from both the novel and the film, but wisely followed the filmmaker’s lead in dropping the Jewish stereotypes (Israel Rank becomes a Castillian named Monty Navarro). Less prudent, perhaps, was the decision to include a sissified homosexual, a pelt-bearing baron, marauding Muslims, caste-conscious lepers, and a tribe of cannibalistic Africans.

Did I mention the in-your-face phallus which was foisted upon the audience?

As a burlesque, this show could possibly work, with better lines and better actors. But nothing can fix Steven Lutvak’s forgettable score or the flat voices which try to put it over.

When you’re barraged with bromide in place of real music – and no easy exit in sight – you start to look for a glimmer of hope: something to tide you over until you can may a break for the door. That glimmer arrived late in the first act in the person of Kristen Hahn as Phoebe. Hahn’s singing is sweet and her acting quite natural. Sixty minutes into the show, her appearance was truly a breath of fresh air.

Also noteworthy is the energetic ensemble, but then – we should have listened to their initial warning.

In critiquing the other actors, allow me to say once again that the music is wholly forgettable. But that in itself is absolutely no excuse for some of the sounds which streamed from their golden throats.

Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella toys with Kevin Massey as the murderous Monty Navarro in the touring production of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder.

Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella toys with Kevin Massey as the murderous Monty Navarro.

Kevin Massey as the psychopathic killer, Navarro, is banal at best. His acting is serviceable enough, though not totally convincing. Massey is also given to fits of unrestrained mugging, and nothing about his singing will make one forget Robert Goulet.

John Rapson (as the various members of the now named D’Ysquith Family) and Kristen Beth Williams (as the amoral Sibella Hallward) seem to be in a race to see who can bellow the worst bars of music. Rapson wins this dubious laurel – but only because he has a larger part than Ms. Williams. Acting wise, both Rapson and Williams tend to overshadow Massey – not so much with talent – but more in an “aren’t we so cute?” sorta way. Both also suffer from odd dialect coaching and curious direction. Rapson, for example, handles his many quick costume changes alright, but then emerges as one cloying character after another. Tighter reigns by the director, DarkoTresnjak, may have helped. Or maybe not. Some of the supporting cast also play bit parts way over the top. Mary VanArsdel as Miss Shingle is the worst of these offenders.

On the creative side, the show is eye-catching, with a special nod to costume designer Linda Cho. The visual effects by Aaron Rhyne were at times amazing, and Alexander Dodge devised a sumptuous set. Music director Lawrence Goldberg should also be commended for not breaking his baton in half and throwing it at the composer and the cast.

For those who care about such things, GGLAM is a Tony Award-winning show and garnered four honors including Best Musical (2014). That alone will help sell some tickets, (and the Hippodrome is a great place to see any show) but if even the ensemble says “Depart!”, you may want to opt for your pajamas and barca-lounger, a brimming beaker of Beefeater gin, and a private screening of Sweeney Todd.

* * * * *

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder runs now – January 1, 2017 at the historic Hippodrome Theatre. The theater is located at 12 North Eutaw Street, Baltimore Maryland. Tickets and other information may be found by visiting the Hippodrome online or by calling the box office at 410-837-7400.

About the author

Anthony C. Hayes

Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A former reporter at the Washington Herald, and Voice of Baltimore, Tony's poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore!, SmartCEO, Magic Octopus Magazine, Destination Maryland, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. Contact the author.

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