Oct 14, 2019
by Jeanie K. Smith , San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
The North Bay premiere of this raucous gem currently plays at Spreckels Theatre Company, making a ghoulish treat of murder and mayhem for the spooky season. Launched in 2013, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder swept the 2014 Tony awards and is now showing up in regional theatres to the delight of audiences everywhere. The cast and production team at Spreckels do a bang-up job with this one, delivering laughs and outstanding vocals alongside impressive special effects and staging.
Based on a 1907 novel, the musical’s book follows the ascendance of Monty D’Ysquith Navarro (Andrew Smith), gleefully offing those family members who precede him in line of inheritance, justifying it as revenge for wrongs done to his mother. The book has been mined before for entertainment, in the film Kind Hearts and Coronets, that starred Alec Guinness playing the roles of all the D’Ysquiths that fall prey to Monty’s scheme, including the women. The musical makes great use of this device, creating a star turn, that in Spreckels’ production is filled by local favorite Tim Setzer, who plays all those roles in a tour de force performance. You definitely don’t want to miss him in this one.
Complications abound in Monty’s nefarious plots, including two love interests— sweet-voiced and sensuous Sibella (Madison Genovese) dueling with pragmatic and passionate Phoebe (Maeve Smith). Cheering him on is family friend Miss Shingle (Eileen Morris), and the abundantly talented ensemble who take on numerous supporting roles. The twists and turns fly fast and furious, and one must listen closely to lyrics for the details, but it all comes clear in the end— er, maybe.
Creators Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak pattern the musical after a tried-and-true Gilbert and Sullivan formula, but modernize with music and the outlandish plot. “G&S” fans will love the nod to the comic geniuses, but you don’t need to know this in order to enjoy the whole production. Director Michael Ross chose well in casting, matching superb voices to the particular style of the musical, making a veritable feast of vocals. The four principals— Setzer, Smith, Smith, and Genovese— are standouts, but there are fine voices in the ensemble as well.
Clever projections (by Chris Schloemp) and staging (director Ross) allow for many locations and optics for the various murders, and add greatly to the fun. Skipper Skeoch adroitly and attractively handles a massive costuming job, and especially delights with Setzer’s various outfits. Lighting design by Eddy Hansen works wonders with specials, and set design by Elizabeth Bazzano and Eddy Hansen gives a wonderful music-hall ambiance. Miking the excellent orchestra is necessary, given their location, but sometimes overwhelms performer’s voices. Music director Jim Coleman ably shepherds the band and those sterling vocals.
In all it’s a terrific show, sure to impart laughter and entertainment and appreciation for the whole spectacle. A definite don’t-miss!— Jeanie Smith
Book and Lyrics by Robert L. Freedman, Music and Lyrics by Steven Lutvak.
Presented by Spreckels Theatre Company through Oct. 27, 2019
Thu/Fri/Sat at 7:30pm, Sun at 2:00pm
Tickets: $10-34; Senior, student and under-18 discounts
Spreckels Theatre Company
Codding Theatre, Spreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Photos by Jeff Thomas
Jeanie K. Smith
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