Touring ‘Gentleman’s Guide’ is a total blast

Photo by Joan Marcus
Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella Hallward, Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro and Adrienne Eller as Phoebe D'Ysquith in a scene from "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder."

Much has been written about the Broadway production of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” (which closes Jan. 17, in case you’re in New York) and most of it is wildly positive.

Here’s the New York Times: “[This] delightful show will lift the hearts of all who’ve been pining for what sometimes seems a lost art form: musicals that match streams of memorable melody with fizzily witty turns of phrase.” Variety called it “adorably wicked.” Time Out New York dubbed it “the new undisputed king of musical comedy.” It won four 2014 Tony Awards including Best Musical.

The touring production of “Gentleman’s Guide,” which opened last night at the State Theatre and runs through Sunday, is a total blast. We laughed out loud, we reveled in the language, we loved the singing, staging, costumes, movement and pacing, we thought the cast was great and we enjoyed every minute.

Because “Gentleman’s Guide” is about a serial killer, it has been compared to “Sweeney Todd,” which isn’t fair. “Sweeney Todd” is sinister and dark; “Gentleman’s Guide” is hilarious. Farcical, not suspenseful. Smoothly played by Kevin Massey, the likable, charming lead is more Dexter than Hannibal Lecter.

Set in Edwardian London, this is the story, in fewer characters than a tweet: An impoverished young man named Monty Navarro learns he’s ninth in line to an earldom and decides to murder his way to the top. That’s all you need to know going in. That, and the fact that Monty’s victims, all members of the aristocratic D’Ysquith family (say DIE-squith; get it?) are played by a single actor, the awesome John Rapson, who should be pelted with roses at the end of every performance. The man is an athlete, and not only when he’s wearing a padded muscle suit with a tasteless bulge.

A few comments and suggestions if you go: “Gentleman’s Guide” sings more like an operetta than a musical. As Phoebe D’Ysquith, Adrienne Eller reminded us of Helena Bonham Carter with a silvery soprano. As Sibella Hallward, Kristen Beth Williams is terrific, and we liked that she’s taller than Monty. The scenes between Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith (Rapson) and his wife, Lady Eugenia (Kristen Mengelkoch) will make you blow wine out your nose, if you still have any left by the middle of the second act.

Watch for bees, barbells, a head on a wire and other silly sight gags. Listen hard to the lyrics so you catch sparkly gems like “If I had the poise to put the poison in a pot of tea” and “Why are all the D’Ysquiths dying? What a tasteless way of showing off” and “To summarize the heretofore, he does not understand the poor.”

Six shows remain. Run time 2 ½ hours, including one 20-minute intermission. FMI and tickets ($49 – $134).

***

Jennifer Bielstein

On April 1, Jennifer Bielstein will join the Guthrie as its new managing director, Artistic Director Joseph Haj announced Tuesday.

Bielstein brings impressive credentials to the job. She began her career as a theater administrator in Chicago, where she was executive director of Writers Theatre and also worked for the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, About Face Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Apple Tree Theatre and Lincoln Park Zoo. In 2006, she became managing director of Actors Theatre of Louisville, Kentucky’s flagship arts organization. She has been active on boards in Chicago and Louisville and serves as vice president of the League of Resident Theaters, where Haj worked with her on the diversity task force.

“I could not be more pleased to have Jennifer joining us,” Haj said in a statement. “Jennifer is one of the most highly regarded managing directors in the country, and her voice has powerfully influenced the field in recent years.”

At Actors Theatre, Bielstein oversaw finance, marketing, fundraising and general operations, including human resources, information technology and facilities maintenance. At the Guthrie, she’ll lead finance, marketing and visitor services, human resources, information technology, facilities, and contract and labor negotiations. Actors Theater is an $11 million operation with an audience of 150,000 annually. The Guthrie’s budget for FY 2014-15 was $29 million, with attendance at 378,538.

With Bielstein on board, Haj’s management team is complete. In July 2015, he appointed Jeff Meanza associate artistic director; Meanza previously worked under Haj at Playmakers Repertory Company at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (where Bielstein earned her B.A.). In October, he named David Stewart production director; Stewart came from Texas Performing Arts at the University of Texas at Austin. Danielle St. Germain-Gordon has been director of development since June, 2013, when she was appointed by Joe Dowling. Before then, she was chief development officer for Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.

The picks

Tonight (Wednesday, Jan. 6) at Homewood Studios: Blake Nellis Presents “Mad Minute Films.” Artist, choreographer, dancer, photographer and educator Nellis used his 2015 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant to make a series of 60-second dance films and still photographs showing the beauty and virtuosity of human connection, improvisation and touch. About this project, Nellis wrote, “I am challenging our culture’s attention span and asking ‘when do we get bored’ or ‘what makes something art when it’s on the internet’?” The films screen tonight at 8 and 9 p.m.; the photos are on view through Jan. 12. Free. If you haven’t yet visited George Roberts’ intimate, inviting North Side artists’ workspace and gallery, this is a good reason.

A still from Blake Nellis’s “The 3rd One”

Thursday at the Textile Center: Opening for “A Common Thread 2016.” The Textile Center is to fiber arts what the Loft is to writing and Northern Clay is to pottery. This annual show of work by its members is a look at what’s possible in quilting, felting, beading, weaving, basketmaking, dyeing, knitting, crochet, embroidery, sewing, surface design and mixed media. If all 137 participating artists show up, the place will be jammed. 6 – 8 p.m. Free. The show is on display through Feb. 27.

Thursday at the Capri Theater: “Fresh Dressed.” Through music, history and interviews with rappers, designers and other insiders (Pharrell Williams, Damon Dash, Kanye West, Sean “Puffy” Combs), Sacha Jenkins’ documentary tells the story of hip-hop style and its rise to the mainstream. Part of the Film Society’s “First Thursday Films @ the Capri” series. 7 p.m. Tickets online or at the door ($5).

Photo by Nick Vaughan
The TEAM’s “RoosevElvis”

Starts Thursday at the Walker: Out There 2016. Start the New Year with something provocative, unexpected, outrageous and/or puzzling. Curator Philip Bither’s annual festival of performance alternatives begins with The TEAM’s “RoosevElvis,” in which the spirits of Elvis Presley and Theodore Roosevelt take a gender-bending road trip from the Badlands to Graceland. 8 p.m. Thursday – Saturday. FMI and tickets ($25/$22 members).

The weekend and a bit beyond

Saturday at the Ordway Music Theater: Dengue Fever. Cambodian pop, psychedelic rock, Afro grooves and American garage-rock meet in this award-winning Los Angeles-based band, now in its second decade. Come to listen, people-watch – and dance. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($23-$27). Looking for something to do on Friday night? Head to the Capri Theater for a free screening of John Pirozzi’s film “Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Soul,” about the rise of Cambodian music in the 1960s and ’70s and its near-destruction by the Khmer Rouge. 6 p.m. Stay after for refreshments and a discussion with members of Dengue Fever. Presented by the Ordway.

Photo by Marc Walker
Cambodian pop, psychedelic rock, Afro grooves and American garage-rock meet in award-winning Los Angeles-based band Dengue Fever.

Monday at Penumbra Theatre: “Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords.” Stanley Nelson’s award-winning documentary is the first to chronicle and celebrate the history of America’s black newspapers, from Freedom’s Journal (founded in 1827) to the Chicago Defender, the most powerful and successful black-owned newspaper of all time. The screening will be followed by a conversation with Shannon Givney, professor of English at MCTC. 7 p.m. Part of Penumbra’s Reel Talk series, this event is free, but reservations are required.

Hot tickets

On sale at noon today: Dave Eggers and Marlon James in Conversation at Hamline Church United Methodist on Feb. 4. Just … wow. Eggers is author of “The Circle” and “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” (among others), founder of McSweeney’s and co-founder of the literacy project 826 National. James is the Man Booker Prize-winning author of “A Brief History of Seven Killings.” According to the Facebook event page, the two will discuss “topics related to recent books.” All proceeds support Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute’s creative writing and academic programs. Talk at 8 p.m. General admission $25, VIP and pre-party event $125, general admission and post-party at Turf Club $50. Presale tickets are available at noon through MOIs Generosity crowdsourcing campaign, where theyll be added as a new perk. On Monday, ticket purchases will move to Etix. 

On sale now: Davell Crawford: Tribute to Allen Toussaint at the Dakota on Jan. 18-19. We were shocked and saddened to learn of Toussaint’s death in November. And it’s hard to imagine anyone better than New Orleans’ own Crawford at the keys, remembering and honoring a man who played a big part in his life: as a musician, role model and a longtime family friend. “I owe him much,” Crawford has said, and he’s sure to show it. 7 and 9 p.m. FMI and tickets ($35-$20).

No comments yet

Leave a Reply