When much of your time is spent in theaters picking apart individual performances, wardrobe malfunctions, and minute scenic infractions, it’s easy to forget that you’re watching something that’s meant to be entertaining. That in mind, this week I found myself in a preview performance of Theatre Baton Rouge’s production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder experiencing something I hadn’t felt in quite some time: delight.
The show has definite Gilbert and Sullivan vibes, and while it would be easy to criticize it as a pastiche, the concept is freshened with modern humor and nods to the indelicacies of its Edwardian setting.
We are led on our journey of romance and death by Lord Montague “Monty” D’Ysquith Navarro, Ninth Earl of Highhurst, who has clawed his way to his rightful title and lands by offing the eight heirs ahead of him. Played by Jonathan Thomas, Monty is on stage for the entirety of the show, and Thomas somehow finds the strength to keep up a vocal and comic balancing act until the final curtain.
This is all the more impressive considering he spends much of his time sparring with TBR veteran Albert Nolan, who plays all nine members of the D’Ysquith family in turn, giving each of them unique voices and personalities. His death scenes are humorous and numerous, and his musical numbers weave some of the best jokes into the show.
As if murdering nearly a dozen people wasn’t enough, Monty also juggles not one but two romantic interests. The first is Sibella Hallward, played by Marion Bienvenu, who keeps him on his toes both amorously and vocally, and manages to make a money-grubbing adulteress somehow sympathetic.
Horror and comedy come from the same source: surprise. There were moments where the cast — both individually and as a whole — surprised with a smile, a snort, and even a string of giggles after misdirecting me before a sideswipe.
The show is full of surprises, but one of the most delightful is Brandy Cramer, making her debut on the TBR stage. The cast is a smorgasbord of intimidating talent, and she holds her own in remarkable fashion. One of the biggest grins I’ve experienced in quite some time came during “I’ve Decided to Marry You,” when Thomas finds himself trapped between Bienvenu and Cramer. The trio juggle lyrics and music so precisely, any hesitation would send the piece crashing to the floor.
All of this demands much of the chorus, and they are up to the task, surviving a constantly changing set by each carrying multiple roles, accents, and wardrobe changes.
Taken together, the flawless execution of this technically demanding show makes it one you shouldn’t miss. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder opens Friday, November 1, and runs through the November 17. Murder has never been funnier.