by Michael Nichols
Boisterous dance numbers. Hilarious staged deaths. Romantic rivals. And a plot for revenge that proves all is fair in love and murder. Kicking off FST’s 45th Winter Mainstage Season, the critically acclaimed musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder tells the story of Monty Navarro, an heir to a family fortune who sets out to jump the line of succession by – you guessed it – eliminating the eight pesky D’Ysquith family relatives who stand in his way. Laughter, whimsy, and cut-throat payback ensues in what Time Out Chicago called “One of the best Broadway musicals in years.”
The Broadway hit swept up four Tonys, and was the most nominated show of the 2014 Broadway season, pulling in more award nominations than per-show death scenes, which, for this murderous romp, is no small feat. Adding to the comedic complexity, the victims of the numerous murders are all played by just one actor. Also, no small feat.
As the bodies stack up, you might start to think of Monty as a monster. But as each succeeding D’Ysquith family member reveals his or herself to be more callous and self-serving than the last, it becomes less clear who is the true villain in this delightfully deadly musical.
Much like the ambitious spirit of Charles Foster Kane (from the classic film Citizen Kane) and the demon barber of Fleet Street (from Sondheim’s murderous musical Sweeney Todd), Monty goes about his bloody business with irresistible playfulness and charm.
Excited to take on the lead role of Monty Navarro is actor Jimmy Nicholas, who loves the character’s complexity.
“He has the same goals and desires that we have today, like love and success, but he lives in a society that tells him there’s no path to achieving those things,” explained Nicholas. “He rails against that. He’s justified in his anger at the system. This rich family treated his mother cruelly, and so he takes on this righteous avenger persona.”
Playing all eight fated family members is actor Richard Henry. As he prepares for this challenging role, Henry is reminded of one of his favorite murder mystery board games, CLUE, saying, “This show has that same sense of self-centered zany aristocrats killing each other that I enjoy so very much.”
But this show is as much a love story as a tale of willful murder, and it isn’t long before Monty finds himself caught between two beautiful women: The sultry social climber Sibella, and the sensitive distant cousin, Phoebe. Will true love prevail or will it too meet an untimely end?
In the Director’s chair is Jason Cannon, who is unintimidated by the scope and reputation of this Tony Award-winning musical. “I am always intrigued, provoked, and eager to bring these big Broadway musicals into our intimate Gompertz Theatre,” said Cannon. “In a real way, we are ‘translating’ the big version of these shows. When you are no more than 13 rows away, and when the aesthetic is focused on actors and metaphor over spectacle, you see these shows in completely new ways. ”