Entertainment

Theater review: Actors make 'Gentleman's Guide to Murder' a breezy, clever treat

From left: James Taylor Odom as Henry D’Ysquith, Kristen Kane and Blake Price as Monty Navarro in a scene from “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.”
From left: James Taylor Odom as Henry D’Ysquith, Kristen Kane and Blake Price as Monty Navarro in a scene from “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.” Courtesy photo

Equal parts corny and clever, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” delighted an audience at Century II on Tuesday night for the first of its three performances in Wichita.

The winner of four Tony Awards in 2014, including best musical, closes out the Broadway Theatre League season.

Much of the appeal of the show comes from the tireless energy of its two lead actors, Blake Price and James Taylor Odom.

Price plays Monty Navarro, who is informed shortly after the death of his mother that she came from an elite British family, and that he is ninth in line of succession to become the Earl of Highhurst.

The eight successors who stand in his way are members of the eccentric D’Ysquith family – and all played by Odom, sometimes in lightning-fast costume changes.

Price not only has the charm and performing ability that one would expect from a Broadway-caliber lead, but a near acrobatic quality as well, whether it’s climbing the sides of the mini-proscenium stage or contorting himself between two doors to keep his two female love interests from discovering each other.

Odom is in his own orbit, bringing life to an array of characters including a doddering old vicar, a globetrotting grande dame and an exercise nut whose, ahem, disproportionately shaped costume drew some of the biggest laughs from Tuesday’s audience. His energetic performance, whether ice skating or looming on a bell tower above a cathedral, shows him taking full advantage of the corniness of his characters and relishing his time with each one.

Price’s Monty begins to believe that offing his distant family will be an easy task, largely appealing to their egos, but becomes attached to some of them and begins to reconsider his decisions.

But killing the kin is only half of the title and plot of “Love and Murder.” The amour comes from two paramours – Sibella (Colleen McLaughlin), who keeps Monty at a distance while she marries an aristocrat; and Phoebe (Erin McIntyre), yet another cousin added to the mix, who slowly warms to the charms of Navarro.

McLaughlin and McIntyre are each delightful in their roles, with elegant appearances and stunning voices.

The climactic scene, and one of the funniest of the night, comes in a dinner where Monty is joined by both of his love interests, his host, the bonkers Lord Adalbert, who can’t fathom why a person would be poor (Odom’s predominant role of the night) and his wife, Lady Eugenia (played with shrewish delight by Colleen Gallagher).

Peggy Hickey’s tour direction, based on the work on Broadway by Darko Tresnjak, is crisp and swift, bringing the characters in and out of the proscenium (with a dazzling, intense red curtain that’s part of Aaron Rhyne’s production design).

An elaborate video screen not only provides a fluid and motion-filled backdrop for the multitude of settings, but is used to display several of the all-played-for-laughs murders of the night.

A combination of the intricate script, music and lyrics by Robert Freedman and Steven Lutvak and some weaknesses in the sound system left several of the words lost on audience members, especially in the expository-filled early scenes of “Love and Murder.”

Nevertheless, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is just the kind of breezy delight that’s needed for a much-delayed spring in Kansas, making for a jolly good time.

A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, April 18-19

Where: Century II concert hall, 225 W. Douglas

Tickets: $45.50 to $95.50, from wichitatix.com, by phone at 303-8100 or at the Century II box office

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