“WHY ARE ALL THE D'YSQUITH’S DYING?”
When Porchlight Music Theatre’s production of “A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love & Murder” opened on Tuesday night, the temperature outside was a cool 12 below and the windchill off the lake was predicted at 40 below overnight. The fearless souls who filled up the Ruth Page Center for the Arts were rewarded mightily, each one a witness to the enormously talented Matt Crowle, turning up the heat on stage and masterfully dispensing his eight assigned lives with gleeful assistance from the scheming Monty Navarro, a terrific role for Andrés Enriquez, in the murderously comic, rags to riches heir-to-be-Earl ascension story that won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical.
Stephen Schellhardt’s brilliantly directed and choreographed ensemble, with musical direction by Andra Velis Simon, includes bell-ringing performances from the poised and perfect duo of Emily Goldberg as Sibella Hallward and Ann Delaney as Phoebe D’Ysquith, Monty’s two competing love interests, whose big, beautiful voices are every bit a match for the challenging demands of the Steven Lutvak opera-infused score.
Robert L. Freedman’s book, based on a novel by Roy Horniman, centers around members of the ruling class and the plight of an heir to the D’Ysquith family (Enriquez) whose disavowed, and recently deceased, mother leaves behind letters and a birth certificate confirming his lineage. There is some devilish foreshadowing early on by Miss Shingle (the delightful Caron Buinis) that makes it clear that Monty will have to secure his own standing in society, and with it a considerable fortune, if he is to win the hand of his social climbing love Sibella (Goldberg). Immediately rejected, Monty hatches a plan to move up the family tree by sending everyone else down under. In no time at all, everyone is singing, “Why are all the D’Ysquith’s dying.”
All of those D’Ysquith’s are portrayed by the superlative Crowle, a skilled actor, comedian, dancer and singer and one of Chicago’s top talents in each of those categories, who conducts a master class in comedy in a performance that everyone will be talking about for a long time. It’s one madcap musical adventure after another. At one astonishing moment, as the scene closes on the death of a D’Ysquith, Crowle magically appears through a door dressed as another.
The small in numbers cast plays much larger than it is with over 80 magnificent Jeff Handy costume changes and loaded with singers and dancers who play multiple roles featuring Rachel Klippel (Miss Barley) and Michael Reyes (Chief Inspector Pinckney), with Megan Elk and William Dwyer. And while everyone has their hands in this delectably comic pie, Sharriese Hamilton’s Lady Eugenia stands toe-to-toe with Crowle’s Lord D’Ysquith at the dinner party in a comic confrontation that is one of the most hilarious sequences you will ever see.
Angela Weber Miller’s whimsical set design, with Denise Karczewski’s lighting design and a series of artful projections by Anthony Churchill, showcase the versatility of the Ruth Page space and create picture perfect settings to follow the (not so) cunning Monty from a dark and dreary dungeon to the upper most crusty crust of society, meeting a succession of wacky D’Ysquith’s until the poison in his pocket finds a new home and, well, who wants to know the ending of a good old fashioned murder mystery musical before they see it for themselves.
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