Good romp with bad people
Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder puts a musical, satirical spin on class warfare
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How far would you go to get what you want?
This ethical question forms the core of much pop culture, and in turn, much of our daily lives. Would you tell a white lie to get ahead at work? Transform your persona completely to impress a crush? Would you kill several relatives to acquire a vast fortune?
“I might think about how to spend the money,” says Donna Fletcher, the co-founder of Winnipeg theatre company Dry Cold Productions. “But I don’t think I’d consider bumping people off.”
That’s where she and Monty Navarro differ.
Navarro is the protagonist at the heart of Dry Cold’s current show, A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love & Murder, a Tony-winning musical set in England just past the turn of the 20th century, the Victorian era in the rearview mirror but very much at the forefront of class politics.
Men as aimless and as penniless as Navarro, played by Winnipeg’s Justin Stadnyk, often require a kick in the pants to seek direction or dollars, and in Gentlemen, that kick comes courtesy of two women.
One is a romantic interest, an upper cruster named Sibella (played by local Sarah Luby), who wants to reach an even higher tax bracket. The other is a little old lady named Miss Shingle (Tracy Penner), who brings Monty some shocking news: his mother was a member of the wealthy D’Ysquith family, banished for defying their snobbery.
Dollar signs and hearts replace Navarro’s pupils: he is eighth in line to become the Earl of Highhurst. To get ahead, he might have to cut.
For a show about murder, Fletcher says Guide is anything but foul. A loose adaptation of Roy Horniman’s 1907 novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal, which in turn inspired Kind Hearts and Coronets, the show is a smorgasbord of musical styles and comedic approaches: there is pointed satire, murder mystery, slapstick, gallows humour and all-around cleverness. “It’s devilishly funny,” Fletcher says. An interesting term – devilishly funny.
The show satirizes the mores of elite British society, which of course are present everywhere in the world, and the wealthy class’s obsession with maintaining a separation from those who do not fit their expensive bill — a division bordering on caste, especially in the period depicted. It also pokes at the question of social mobility, both upward and downward, what is to be gained and what is to be lost in a move in either direction.
There are shades of Mr. Bean, Monty Python, Sondheim and Gilbert & Sullivan daubed throughout the 24-song show, with themes reminiscent of everything from Six Degrees of Separation to Brewster’s Millions to Trading Places to Downton Abbey. Rich and poor is a tale as old as money.
Written by Robert L. Freedman with music by Steven Lutvak, the Broadway production won widespread acclaim, including four Tonys, in 2013. When the rights became available, Fletcher said it was an obvious fit for Dry Cold, which in mounting its first show since before the pandemic began required a joyful jolt of musical glee.
The cast and crew takes its cue from director Erin McGrath: they are all local talent.
Stadnyk and Luby, plus Sydney Clarke as Monty’s other love interest, Phoebe, provide a love triangle. Kevin Klassen, who will portray the entire D’Ysquith family, provides a deadly octagon.
“He has eight personas in the show,” says Fletcher: the current earl, the next two in line, a woeful actress, Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith, a major, a lord who served in the Boer War and a reverend.
Key to the show is Monty, who Fletcher says remains loveable even as he plots and executes capital sins. “He takes it further than any of us would go,” she says.
Nothing is off the table.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.