A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Yawn. Despite being critically acclaimed and the most nominated Broadway musical of the season, I was thoroughly bored while watching A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. Nearly everyone else in the audience was howling with laughter. I recognized all the comedic moments (there's even a great farce number at the top of act two—I enjoyed that), and I can say that the quality of the show—a well-balanced book (by Robert L. Freedman) and score (by Steven Lutvak), efficient scenic design (by Alexander Dodge), theatrical period costumes (by Linda Cho) and good performances by the cast, led by Tony nominees Jefferson Mays (The Best Man) and Bryce Pinkham (Ghost, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson)—but I just didn't like it.
Directed by Tony nominee Darko Tresnjak, A Gentleman's Guide... is a campy show told in flashback as Monty Navarro (Pinkham) writes his memoir. Monty had a humble upbringing but upon his mother's death, he learns that she was a D'Ysquith, a royal family in London, circa 1909. When Monty's mother married for love, she was disinherited, and the D'Ysquiths turned their back on her. Monty seeks to use his D'Ysquith connection to better his station in life, and learns there are eight D'Ysquiths (all played by Mays) ahead of him in the royal line of succession. He then sets off on a killing spree (this is all lighthearted, I promise) in order to claim the title. He also tries to impress some ladies along the way.
Much has been made of Jefferson Mays's performance, as he portrays all eight D'Ysquiths. It's surely a demanding task, but I give more credit to his dressers and the stage crew who help him transform into each lord, lady and earl. It's a flashy performance, which certainly adds to the attention. For all that he did, though, I was more impressed by Bryce Pinkham, and I was happy to see him step into the leading man role.
But it's that time of the year—Tony time. Though A Gentleman's Guide... opened in the fall, I'm only seeing it now, after all the Tony and other awards love has been showered on it. And I don't get it.
I don't understand what Tony nominators saw in this show that made them think it was more deserving of a Best Musical nomination than If/Then or the recently shuttered The Bridges of Madison County. (And remember, they could have nominated five shows, meaning If/Then or Bridges could have been nominated alongside A Gentleman's Guide... and not instead of it.)
I don't understand what director Tresnjak did that is more impressive than the genius of the snubbed Alex Timbers. To be honest, I'm not even sure that what Mays and Pinkham do are more attention–worthy than what the snubbed Steven Pasquale did in Bridges. (Seriously—have you watched this? I mean...) How did Brian Yorkey not receive a Best Book of a Musical nomination while Freedman did? And what about other shows that opened in the fall that didn't make it to the spring, as—miraculously, really—A Gentleman's Guide did? Shows like Big Fish, which should have garnered a nod for the luminous Kate Baldwin, rather than A Gentleman's Guide's Lauren Worsham (who does fine work but nothing that stands out).
I know that's not a fair way to judge the show, but I can't help it. To be candid, though, I think even if I had seen this in the fall, or at least before Tony nominations came out, I still would have been bored by it. Again, I can't deny the quality, and it has an original score (the show, though, is based on the Roy Horniman book), but neither of those things add up to me liking it. Plenty of people are finding it entertaining, and if you're one of them, cheers. If you're looking to see something that's fun and engaging, though, you can heed the advice of a gentleman's guide to attending the theatre (a cheeky insert in the Playbill) but skip the show.