Pastiche is back in town, settled in for a run on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre.
Some brave and disparate talents got together with a 1907 novel by Roy Horniman, already used as the source of the 1949 film starring Alec Guinness. Both were called “Kind Hearts and Coronets” and now a new group of creators have dared to make a musical called A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder from the same source.
Robert L. Freedman has written the new book and co-written the lyrics with Steven Lutvak on lyrics and music. Playing it out on a mini-stage before a very Victorian background, they’ve created a fun-filled romp of a piece that needed all the help it could get from its cast, its director, choreographer and design staff in order to fly. And for the most part, fly it does.
A young man, Monty Navarro, who has just lost his mother, discovers that before she married, she was a D’ysquith, a distant cousin of the wealthy and influential Lord Asquith D’ysquith, Sr. Monty is the ninth down the line of potential inheritors of the title and the money and power that went with it. He decides his only chance for a rise from the bottom of the heap is to rid the world of all who stand in his way. As in the Guinness film, all of his rivals are here played by the one actor — in this case the appealing, resourceful Jefferson Mays who has already established himself as perhaps the must useful actor currently trotting the boards. In I Am My Own Wife, The Best Man, Pygmalion, Journey’s End and Measure for Measure he’s already proved he’s as equally at home in comedy, drama, musical theatre and Shakespeare. Not only “at home” but proficient, original and always a welcome sight.
His co-star is Bryce Pinkham, a relative newcomer, whose bright light baritone and marvelous diction make listening to him a treat. He has his tongue just far enough into his cheek to extract humor and appeal from his ambitious pauper of a leading man, intent on improving his lot. The two ladies who attract him are played by Lisa O’Hare and Lauren Worsham, both of whom have clear and warm soprano voices that don’t interfere with the lyrics. Both are beauties and it’s a draw when it comes to which is more entitled to their suitor, the determined murderer.
Jane Carr, as an old biddy, knows just what she’s doing in playing Miss Shingle, an old busybody who helps Monty discover his connection to the d’Ysquith family, and sets him on his way to claiming what he feels is his rightful fortune. The ensemble sings impeccably and is useful all evening long.
The score is the weak link in this otherwise delightfully comic piece. Lyrically, it is clever enough, but the music is not distinctive and made me long for the richness of Sandy Wilson’s The Boy Friend or Rupert Holmes’ Mystery of Edwin Drood, both pastiche musicals of this genre. There isn’t a melody in the carload of 20 songs that leaps off the stage and cries out: “Remember me!” I describe the score as serviceable, but it is staged and performed by a cast so first rate that its lack of distinction doesn’t diminish the overall success of the show. Jefferson Mays’ work alone is worth a visit. That he is supported by a gifted company of singing actors, set in a gorgeous red setting, delivering orchestrations by the great Jonathan Tunick, with special effects that are genuinely funny you won’t feel cheated. A very jolly crowd joined me in light heartedly bouncing out of the theatre into the realities of the cold wet world in winter.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is onstage at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W. 48th St, NYC.
Details and tickets
Richard Seff, Broadway performer, agent, playwright, librettist, columnist adds novelist to his string of accomplishments, with the publication of his first novel, TAKE A GIANT STEP. His first book, Supporting Player: My Life Upon the Wicked Stage, celebrates his lifetime on stage and behind the scenes. Both books are available through online booksellers, including Amazon.com.
He has also written the book to SHINE! The Horatio Alger Musical which was a triple prize winner at the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF). Each year, Actors Equity recognizes the year’s most outstanding supporting player with, appropriately enough, the Richard Seff Award.
Richard Seff is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.