‘A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE IS TO DIE FOR AND THE VERSATILE
MATT HAMMONS IS A SHOW STOPPER
As spring arrives in the 2020 theatre season murder, death, greed and love are great fun and a guilty pleasure in A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER. 42nd St Moon continues their 26th season with this 2014 Tony winner now on stage at the Gateway Theatre through March 15th. Director Daren A. C. Carollo brings an excellent cast of local favorites and marvelous musical direction by Daniel Thomas. The inventive comedy never loses momentum as it racks up the best body count 42nd Moon has seen to date.
What would you do if you discovered you were 9th in line to be the Earl of Highhurst? The dapper Monty Navarro plans an easy climb to the top in Robert Freedman and Steven Lutvak's A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER. Let's take a step back. Montague Navarro played by the exhilarating Kevin Singer, a poor but proper Englishman, is mourning the loss of his mother when he receives an unexpected visit from a certain Miss Shingle played by the riveting Teressa Foss. She tells Monty that he's a member of the wealthy D'Ysquith family. Foss sings to Singer “You’re a D’Ysquith” and they both prove their gifted voices.
Monty comes up with a plan to murder his way up the line of succession. Complicating the situation is a love triangle that includes Monty; his mistress, Sibella, played by the elegant Christine Capsuto-Shulman, who marries someone else for money. His cousin Phoebe D'Ysquith played by the superb Melissa Wolfklain, the sister of one of Monty's targets sings “Inside Out” with Monty and reminds him he shares the same blood as an Earl.
The madness gets really fun as the murders begin. All of the D'Ysquiths ahead of Monty are played by the clever Matt Hammons. He dies eight times during the show from causes ranging from wind and ice to barbells and bees. Hammons does this brilliantly and sometimes with just seconds to go from drag to a Bee suit. The bravo Hammons’ wet works of head slicing, freak accidents, and poisoning are delectable. He is masterful and a showstopper from beginning to end, making each of the eight D’Ysquith’s unique, tasteful, and hard to forget. The two and half hour musical flies by like any classic Monty Python crazed comedy.
The cheeky stiff upper-lipped citizens of Highhurst get the best of what’s coming to them. An ice skater somehow falls through ice in a carefully cut perfect circle, a priest falls from a church tower, a beekeeper gets swarmed by bright yellow bee stings, and an atrocious actress blows her head off while playing the title role of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler with bystanders yelling, “She shot herself in the temple!” It is a travesty to decide which wasting is the best of the show. The song “ “Foolish to Think” Singer shows off his excellent tenor skills. In the very funny “Better With a Man” both Hammon and Singer prove their comic skills and the sold out opening night audience was pleased.
The awesome stage manager Alicia Lerner frantically gets Hammons on and off stage to transform into all eight family members. Bearing more than a passing resemblance to a classic Monty Python sketch, Hammons also has a gift for physical comedy, ratcheting up the outrageousness with each death. The whole show feels at times like SWEENY TODD in high speed.
As the handsome young lad climbing the aristocratic ladder, Singer delivers a fine performance of gory flare, but with sweet and kind moments. To the courting of Sibella and the pacifying of Phoebe, to each victory of a D’Ysquith slain, Singer’s portrayal is a hero to be loved for his eight deadly sins. As Sibella, Foss brands her as the voluptuous, yet zealous beauty dressed in pink, as stated in “I Don’t Know What I’d Do Without You.” The graceful WolfKlain as Phoebe is awkward, quirky, and annoyingly brilliant, making her solo “Inside Out” fill the Gateway theatre with charm. The love trio shines when Monty is at his wit's, frustratingly hiding his affairs with Sibella from Phoebe in the shows stopping “I’ve Decided to Marry You.” Everyone is hilariously battling each other in song, where Sibella is trying to leave, and Phoebe just won’t until she confesses her matrimonial decision, making Monty lose his hair to calm them both.
A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE is a powerhouse comedy musical without having to lean towards glorified dance numbers, and outrageous staging elements. Scenic Designer Mark Mendelson's manor wooden walled set includes portraits that talk and sliding panels that reveal furniture and doors. The lighting by Claudio Silva Restrepo spills into the Gateway audience and his light fog keeps the mood gloomy. The authentic wonderful costumes by Rebecca Valentino include Edwardian apparel with some quick change suits for Hammons including his Beekeeper suit.
Carollo's vibrant direction and Christina Lazo's snappy portrait choreography keep the murders hilarious and fast. There is plenty of attention given to the songs and dialogue, melding them so well and Steven Lutvak’s score is sensuous. It’s a mixed bag of blood gulp from the Demon Barber of Fleet Street with the slapstick hoopla of Marx Brothers, Benny Hill and The 39 steps.
The distinguisged ensemble for A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER includes: Lee Ann Payne, Noel Anthony Escobar, Nick Nakashima, Sean Fenton, Amanda Johnson, Nicole Helfer and Hayley Lovgren who fill out all the supporting characters. The choreography by Lazo is chipper and delightful, alongside Daniel Thomas on Piano, Dana Bauer on Woodwinds and Ken Brills brillant Keyboard sound effects well balanced and spot on. The prop heavy show includes plenty of guns, stuffed animals, flower baskets and snow created by Mendelson. Fight coach Josh Marx staged some amazing death scenes and Wig designer Lexie Lazear was busy keeping a full head of hair on Hammons’ many characters including all his mustaches and side chops.
Carollo’s direction is fast and a celebration of Love and Murder with the support of Ashely Garlick and Alicea Lerner’s quick change magic with Hammons. Even though the plot does involve lust, class privilege, and murder, the show itself is absolutely delightful and as ambitious as its protagonist. From the live band to the pitch-perfect cast. Next up at 42nd Street Moon is THE PAJAMA GAME that opens April 15th. MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG the Musical in repertory with the 1934 original play opens in May and all productions will perform at San Francisco’s Gateway Theatre. But in the meantime celebrate a little blood and gore and some fun. This is a MUST SEE killer comedy musical.
42nd Street Moon Presents
A Gentleman's Guide
to Love and Murder
Book and Lyrics by Robert I. Freedman
Music and Lyrics by Steven Lutvak
Based on a novel by Roy Horniman
Directed by Daren A. C. Carollo
Music Director Daniel Thomas
and choreography by Christina Lazo
THROUGH: March 15th
San Francisco's Gateway Theatre
215 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94111
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes; one intermission
Tickets at www.42ndstmoon.org.
Photos by Ben Krantz Studio
60 second Promo
The cast of A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER will feature Kevin Singer* ("Monty"), Melissa WolfKlain* ("Phoebe"), Christine Capsuto-Shulman* ("Sibella"), Matt Hammons* ("The D'Ysquith Family"), Teressa Foss* ("Miss Shingle"/Ensemble), Lee Ann Payne* ("Lady Eugenia"/Ensemble), Noel Anthony Escobar* (Ensemble), Nick Nakashima* (Ensemble), Sean Fenton* (Ensemble), Amanda Johnson* ("Miss Barley"/Ensemble), Nicole Helfer (Ensemble) and Hayley Lovgren (Ensemble).
In addition to Carollo, Thomas and Lazo, the creative team will include Mark Mendelson (Scenic Designer), Claudio Silva Restrepo (Lighting Designer), Rebecca Valentino (Costume Designer), Alicia Lerner* (Stage Manager) and Ashley Garlick* (Assistant Stage Manager).