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Book & Lyrics by Robert L. Freedman
Music & Lyrics by Steven Lutvak
Based on a Novel by Roy Horniman

WaterTower Theatre

Randy Pearlman – The D’Ysquith Family
Andrew Keeler – Montague D’Ysquith
Laura Lyman Payne – Sibella Hallward
Alison Whitehurst – Phoebe D’Ysquith
Sarah Caldwell – Woman 1
Megan A. Liles – Woman 2
Mary Kim – Woman 3
Anthony J. Ortega – Man 1
Nick Moore – Man 2
D’Mariel Jones – Man 3
Claire Greenberg – Ensemble Swing
Hayden Gray – Ensemble Swing

Reviewed Performance: 7/23/2022

Reviewed by Chris Hauge, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

At the beginning of Water Tower Theatre’s production of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” the chorus assembles above the stage and urgently warns those of us in the audience of a ‘weaker constitution’ and those ‘who may be faint of heart,’ that the tale to come is one of ‘revenge and retribution.’ We are told that ‘Blood may spill, and spines may chill’ and it would be best if we left at once. They close with the heartfelt admonition to the audience, ‘For God’s Sake, Go!’ Of course, we must stick around to see what all the fuss is about. And what a wonderful fuss it is. Water Tower Theatre has presented us with this tale of murder, mayhem, and music with great style and an infectious sense of fun. If you like your humor on the slightly dark side, then this will be the perfect way for you to spend a night at the theatre. The acting is excellent, the music is catchy and unforgettable, and there are laughs aplenty.

The musical is loosely based on a 1907 novel by Roy Horniman, “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal.” The book has been adapted many times, most notably in the 1949 Ealing Studios film “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” featuring Alec Guinness as an entire family that meet their untimely ends. In this play, we have Randy Pearlman as the D’Ysquith family portraying nine family members, and he makes each of their departures from mortality incredibly funny.

The author of all this carnage is Lord Montague D'Ysquith Navarro (Andrew Keeler), the Ninth Earl of Highhurst, whom we meet in a jail cell awaiting his final verdict and possible execution for the crime of murder. He tells us he is writing his memoirs and is thinking of titling them, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” He proceeds to tell of his journey. After his mother’s funeral, Montague Navarro, who has grown up in poor circumstances, is informed by a mysterious friend of his mother’s, Miss Shingle (Sarah Caldwell, also known in the program as Woman 1), that he is an heir to the famous and powerful D’Ysquith family legacy; ninth in line to the Earlship to be exact.

Upon learning this, Montague contacts the D’Ysquith family, hoping to better his position and to win the hand of his money-loving girlfriend, Sibella (Laura Lyman Payne). When he is rebuked and denied by a member of the D’Ysquith clan, Montague appeals to the clergy member of the family, a bishop (also in line for the family fortune). During the meeting, the bishop dies in an ‘accident,’ and that gives Monty (I think we can call him Monty now) the idea of ‘removing’ the heirs in front of him and, finally, becoming the new Earl of Highhurst. And we are off on a raucous journey filled with melody, villainy, and love.

Murell Horton provides a marvelously versatile, multi-level, playground of a set for these shenanigans that take place. We are taken to castles, cathedrals, parlors, and jail cells and even to the icy lake of an English holiday resort with speed and efficiency. Mr. Horton also designed the gorgeous Edwardian costumes which, along with the wig designs of Michael B. Moore, give a lovely visual texture to the proceedings. All of this is brilliantly accented by Aaron Johansen’s lighting design, which provides the proper air of foreboding to the tale unfolding before us.

Penny Ayn Maas has assembled a group of committed professionals and has directed them at a lightning-fast pace, keeping this tale of murder and greed light and very enjoyable. Her choreography stays organic to the space and the music and emphasizes the fun that is apparent in each minute of this production (I especially enjoyed the number involving ice skating). The music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak (with book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman) provide a tuneful and playful touch to the evening, and the cast’s execution of the songs and the script make for a wonderful time.

Anchoring the show is Andrew Keeler as Montague D’Ysquith Navarro. He is a natural on stage. We follow his character as he credibly evolves from an earnest, penniless young man to a person obsessed with getting everything to which he feels he is entitled, no matter the cost. Mr. Keeler is mesmerizing to watch. With his strong singing voice and excellent timing, he masters both the comic and the passionate sides of this character (his rendering of the song, “Sibella” and his interaction with cast-mate Laura Lyman Payne is the romantic high-point of the evening). He makes us root for Monty, this man who is killing his way up the economic food chain, and that is evidence of Mr. Keeler’s talent and charisma. He is a gifted actor.

Also gifted is the aforementioned Randy Pearlman as the entire D’Ysquith family. If the phrase ‘tour de force performance ever meant anything, it must apply here. Mr. Pearlman is having so much fun moving from character to character. Old or young, male or female, it doesn’t matter. Mr. Pearlman can play them all and make each one distinct and memorable. And he takes full advantage of the songs he sings and delightfully brings out the nuance and humor of the lyrics. (His work on “I Don’t Understand the Poor” is especially enjoyable) Thank you, Mr. Pearlman.

Laura Lyman Payne is extremely appealing as Sibella Hallward. She shows the character’s contradictory nature with immense talent. Her singing is spot-on, and it is impossible to not notice her on stage. Another skillful singer is Alison Whitehurst, portraying the beautiful and willful Phoebe D’Ysquith (fortunately, she is not in the line of inheritance and, therefore, suitable as a bride for Monty). Ms. Whitehurst has total command of her voice (some of the notes she hits in the song, “I’ve Decided to Marry You,” are jaw-dropping) and she gives Phoebe both an air of innocence and a spine of pure steel. I hope to see Ms. Payne and Ms. Whitehurst again in other performances soon.

And I must applaud the work of all of those in the ensemble. Individually, each had many opportunities to shine. Together, they were the glue that held this wonderful show together. So, thanks go to Sarah Caldwell, Megan A. Liles, Mary Kim, Anthony J. Ortega, Nick Moore, and D’Mariel Jones. You were such an important part of the great show I saw.

Well, that is it. Water Tower has produced a show that is a splendid night out at the theatre. To close, I will echo what the chorus urges the audience to do at the beginning of the play but change the intent. I implore you, ‘For God’s Sake, Go!’

Water Tower Theatre on the Terry Martin Main Stage
July 20 – July 31, 2022
Wednesday – Thursday – 7:30PM
Friday – Saturday – 8:00PM
Saturday – Sunday – 2:00PM
15650 Addison Rd, Addison, TX 75001
For tickets and more information call 972-450-6232
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