Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak’s musical comedy “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” took home four Tony Awards in 2014, including best play, for good reason.
It’s a murder mystery from the killer’s perspective, with a good dose of social satire baked right into the plot. It’s a delightful show and the Virginia Repertory production, currently running at the November Theatre, is a treasure trove of Richmond talent.
Montague “Monty” Navarro lives in a shabby flat and can’t afford to marry his high-maintenance girlfriend. But one day he receives a visit from a mysterious stranger bearing a shocking family secret: his late mother is in fact a member of the rich, aristocratic D’Ysquith family.
Suddenly, Monty finds himself in line to inherit the earldom of Highhurst--just as soon as all eight living D’Ysquiths meet their demise. Driven by his ambition and a pocket full of poison, Monty decides to be the change he seeks, offing his newfound relatives one-by-one.
Director and choreographer Kikau Alvaro has done a fantastic job. His lively staging and peppy dance numbers underscore all of the humor while keeping the plot moving along at a satisfying pace.
He’s also got an excellent, effective and efficient ensemble at his disposal. Debra Wagoner shines in the first scene as Marietta Shingle, the stranger who sets the whole plot into motion. Grey Garrett smolders as Sibella Hallward, Monty’s girlfriend, and Adrienne Eller perfectly embodies the sweet and innocent Phoebe D’Ysquith, who becomes his fiancee.
There are a few standout ensemble members, too, including Georgia Rogers Farmer, Derrick Jacques and Lauren Leinhaas-Cook, whose portrayal of the disgruntled wife of the current earl is one of my favorite moments in this production.
As Monty, Alexander Sapp is equal parts endearing and conniving, and he’s quite funny, considering he plays the straight man to both of his love interests and all of the D’Ysquiths. Scott Wichmann is an energetic chameleon, a master of physical comedy who can shift between characters in the blink of an eye. It is so much fun to watch him transform from one D’Ysquith to the next, each iteration wackier than the last. Sapp and Wichmann are each perfectly cast and at their peak in these performances.
Sandy Dacus’ musical direction is excellent. These are great songs, and they sound big and full in this production. Derek Dumais and Joey Luck’s sound design is great, keeping the vocals crisp and clear while providing the occasional sound effect.
Chris Raintree’s set design is stunning, with a carved wooden frame and walls that move in and out and around to become countless interior and exterior spaces. My favorite set elements, though, are the backlit portraits of the D’Ysquiths. Raintree’s use of screens and B.J. Wilkinson’s creepy lighting are so effective and interesting, working perfectly in tandem.
Sue Griffin’s period costume designs in modern fabrics and prints are fun, and I especially enjoyed seeing all of the female characters’ multiple costume changes.
With a plot that revolves around the inheritance of wealth and songs like “I Don’t Understand the Poor,” this show is also a biting satire of the ways in which money, power and privilege dictate society, and I love it.
The Virginia Rep production hits all of the right notes. It’s not to be missed!
Virginia Repertory Theatre’s “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” runs through Oct. 20. Tickets cost $36 - $63. va-rep.org.