“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” playing at 42nd Street Moon, is a comedic delight, resulting in an all-around polished production. Set in London, “A Gentleman’s Guide” begins with Montague “Monty” Navarro (Kevin Singer) lamenting his potential execution and writing his story which shares a name with the onstage play.
The plot then flashes back to 1907, shortly after Monty’s mother’s death, when he discovers that he is eighth in line to be the earl. This proposition is extremely appealing to Monty as the woman he loves, Sibella Hallward (Christine Capsuto-Shulman), will not marry him because of his lack of wealth and title. After much scheming, Monty plots to kill off the family members preceding him in the earldom to eventually win over Sibella. Interwoven with hilarity at every point, the production thrives on comedic absurdity, keeping audiences amused even as the show’s complex plot becomes muddled.
For a show with “gentleman” in the title, Capsuto-Shulman steals the show as a driving force with her excellent, clear-toned voice and comedic timing. The actress perfectly captures Sibella’s deviousness as well as the grace that makes the character the object of Monty’s affections. Capsuto-Shulman’s energy is unmatched, especially in her introduction to the audience in “I Don’t Know What I’d Do Without You.”
Her chemistry with Singer is natural, making their joint numbers — especially the show-stopping “I’ve Decided to Marry You” with the excellent Phoebe D’Ysquith (Melissa Wolfklain) — a delight. Singer also triumphs individually, his charm leading the show with ease. One can’t help but root for him, even as he commits heinous murders in a quest for power and revenge. The most impressive cast member, however, is Matt Hammons, who plays every other member of the D’Ysquith family.
Hammons puts a unique, compelling eccentricity to every character he takes on, no matter how absurd, keeping the show’s many murders from becoming dull. Whether it be death by bees, barbell or skating accident, Hammons brings immense dramatization and humor to each of the deaths he executes. Furthermore, Hammons is able to keep consistently high energy throughout the show, even amid a plethora of quick costume changes, keeping the audience’s attention while switching from character to character.
Hammons’ portrayal of these wealthy English is essential to the show’s satirization of opulence. The ensemble cast is extremely engaging even in its brief moments, with stunning vocals framing the performance’s beginning and ending points. While the ensemble’s vocals sometimes overpower lead melodies and piano instrumentals, these sound imbalances do not diminish the show’s overall quality. No matter the role, all of the actors excel with the help of inventive, engaging and dazzling choreography.
In contrast to the actors’ dramatic, enthusiastic work, the show’s technical elements remain simplistic yet still ultimately successful. The lighting design, using singular spotlights during Monty’s inner-monologue songs, provides a shift in the tone of the show, allowing pauses for more serious and reflective moments. The instances of colored mood lighting also help enhance the performance without being excessive.
The production would be incomplete without the elegant set design, featuring paintings that allow the actors to appear as the frames’ subjects. This serves as a plus for the more lighthearted songs in which the ensemble sings from the paintings themselves. The set features an overall smart design that allows for quick changes, with beds and desks easily whisked away as the onstage location changes. The transformation of the set into a winter resort, complete with actors throwing fake snow, is particularly stunning.
At first glance, a show set in the 1900s sounds dreary. “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” however, is anything but dreary, making the concept of murder as delightful as it could possibly be.