Courtesy, Walton Arts Center
Life ebbs and flows, so too does art with it. And the Walton Arts Center’s newest production, the critically acclaimed “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” certainly represents a reversal of style. Despite having both “love” and “murder” – two of humanity’s messiest endeavors – right in its title, “A Gentleman’s Guide” is a wholesome, silly affair. There are no curse words and no vulgarities, a sharp contrast to the WAC’s first show of this season, “The Book of Mormon.”
Instead, “A Gentleman’s Guide,” which took home the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2014 after its Broadway debut, is a stylistically thorough madcap. When Monty Navarro (played in the current touring production by Kevin Massey) learns from a mysterious guest that he is a distant heir to an earldom, he sets out to close the gap between himself and Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith. Through any means necessary, Monty offs one after another.
What: “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”
When: Through Jan. 15
Where: Walton Arts Center, Fayetteville
Information: 479-443-5600 or waltonartscenter.org
Note: Tickets range from $35-$74.
We follow Monty around as he endears himself to (and then dispatches) every subsequent member of the D’Ysquith clan, the vast majority of them (including all of the victims) played by just one actor. Quick changes in costume and the use of catchphrase mannerisms shift us between the male and female characters played by John Rapson. It is perhaps even more frantic than that makes it sound. “A Gentleman’s Guide” is a play on the move, with scenes in a number of locations that come to life thanks to a moving stage platform and a video board that shows industrial London with its smoking towers or a palatial garden, depending on the setting.
The show is above all things slick. The movements are flawless, and each activity measured and calculated. For instance, as Monty ascends up the D’Ysquith ranks, he adopts the use of a walking stick. It’s thrown to Monty on several occasions, and it’s thrown with precision and accuracy, landing perfectly in his hand. That’s the kind of thing that happens only after a thousand practices and hundreds of hours of togetherness. It all flows together into a seamless thing. Set pieces move, and theatrical surprises are in store. It’s a highly stylized show.
It’s also fairly predictable. “A Gentleman’s Guide” is no whodunit caper, as Monty’s jailhouse confession opens the show. It also features a fairly common structure for the namesake romances. Monty’s first interest is Sibella Hallward (played by Kristen Beth Williams) who might even love him back but refuses to marry someone of his lowly status. She begins to reconsider as he ascends toward the role of Ninth Earl of Highhurst. Except that his systematic elimination of other D’Ysquiths also introduces him to Phoebe D’Ysquith (Kristen Hahn), a cousin of his. She’s not in the line of succession, so she’s safe, and the cousin thing is overlooked, too. Phoebe also admires him for his newfound success, but just as much because she shares his outsider status.
The show’s two best scenes and songs of the current production feature both Sibella and Phoebe singing, in operatic style, about their desires for Monty. In particular, “I’ve Decided to Marry You” is an outrageous affair and the absolute scene stealer of “A Gentleman’s Guide.”
The show is a cute one, a silly one, and certainly a family friendly balance to the previous Broadway series offering. It’s sometimes even charming – a lot like Monty, the love-struck murderer. There’s a bit of emptiness inside, sure, but the outside is well polished.