Jefferson Mays Is Sliced, Diced in ‘Gent’s Guide’: Review

A stylish music-hall mystery in which we know whodunit from beginning to end, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” has lively songs, a congenial villain and a physically and morally flexible mistress.

Most important, it has the fine actor Jefferson Mays playing all eight heirs to Highhurst Castle as they’re dispatched one after another in comically gruesome ways. What he lacks in finesse as a quick-change artist, he more than makes up for in force of personality.

The villain is one Monty Navarro, raised in poverty by a single mother and lover of Sibella Hayward, who is about to marry into wealth.

When Monty discovers that his father was a distant heir to Highhurst, Monty connives to knock off the intermediary scions. There’s Asquith D’Ysquith Jr., a gay collegian dreamily skating on thin ice. And Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith, who -- well, there need to be some shocks.

Monty is played by the dangerously cherubic Bryce Pinkham, Sibella by curvy newcomer Lisa O’Hare. Mays (“I Am My Own Wife”) brings too few surprises and not much variety to his roles, though he is droll enough.

The director is Darko Tresnjak, whose work is usually scarier. With forgettable songs in the operetta style by Steven Lutvak and an economically paced book by Robert L. Freedman, the harmless show unfolds on Alexander Dodge’s toy-theater set like a machine designed to draw a few laughs and send the audience home relieved of care for a couple of hours. Mission accomplished.

At the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W. 48th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: ***

What the Stars Mean:
*****  Fantastic
****   Excellent
***    Good
**     So-So
*      Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Scott Reyburn and Katya Kazakina on auctions, Elin McCoy on wine, Martin Gayford on art, Warwick Thompson on U.K. theater and Jeremy Gerard on U.S. theater.

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