My brother Ben lives locally with his girlfriend, as do my parents, and Ben’s girlfriend recently celebrated a birthday, so my mom and I decided to take her out for a night of theater at the Kennedy Center to celebrate. It also turns out she’s never been to the Kennedy Center, so that was cool to be there for her first time visiting. My mom bought the tickets for a show called “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”, a show I’d frankly never heard of. I hear about stuff that’s blowing up big time (“Hamilton”, for example is making enough noise), but I don’t watch the Tony’s (odd, since I love theater AND awards shows), and I don’t live in New York, so things are bound to escape my notice. The nice thing about knowing nothing is that you can go in fresh and enjoy a thing merely for what it is (and not for what you think it’s going to be) and without being spoiled. So on a cold evening last week, I made my way to the Kennedy Center with no expectations…and not even realizing that it was a musical we were about to see, let alone one that had won Best Musical in 2014.
Friends, this show is SO funny. The premise is that our young “hero” is the man on the right in the above picture – Montague D’Ysquith Navarro, and his mother was disinherited by her wealthy family. He finds this all out after she dies, and tries to make his way into the family, only to be rejected, which motivates him to start removing those who stand between him and an Earldom. That’s right – murder, like in the title. It’s all a little macabre, but it’s not done in a gruesome, gory way. It’s all very lighthearted and funny. And that’s what really made me enjoy the show – it is light and fluffy fare. You don’t have to think too hard about motivations, and the plot is basically what the title says – love and murder. The songs aren’t particularly hum-worthy, and I don’t know if I could remember any lyrics or tunes if you asked me, but I thoroughly enjoyed them at the time.
Everything else around the plot is what makes the show so enjoyable and special. The costumes are magnificent – everything looks immaculate, and while maybe not entirely era-appropriate, is lush and beautiful. The sets are super cool – in the middle of the stage is another smaller stage with a curtain that is constantly up and down. This allows for multiple mini-sets to be constructed behind it, with the ingenious use of a digital projection screen to serve as backdrops. Because it’s digital, the backdrop can move, or change to go along with the scene and make things more or less realistic, depending on the needs of the scene. It also allows for some cool special effects that I won’t get into here.
The most amazing part of this show is that the D’Ysquith family – the one who have rejected our young hero – are all played by one actor. Before the intermission, I was sure that there had to be at least two actors playing them all because the costume changes were so fast, and the looks so completely different. It turns out that they just have amazing dressers, talented costume makers, and an amazing actor (John Rapson) to play all the characters. He’s the man on the left in the middle photo, the man in the red in the photo above, and the guy in the hat in the photo on the main page. And that’s fewer than HALF of the characters he plays. AMAZING.
So…if the Kennedy Center isn’t snowed in for the next week, and you’ve got a free evening and a hankering for musical theater, make your way. You won’t regret it.