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REVIEW: Brilliant, Hilarious Homicide in Gentleman’s Guide (Old Log Theatre)

Monty Navarro (Max Wojtanowicz, right) drops in on his paramour Sibella (Emily Scinto) in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, now playing at the Old Log Theatre. Photo courtesy of the Old Log Theatre.

It’s a good thing that entertainment consumption and morals are only thinly linked. If the association was strong, the authorities would be sincerely concerned about the Old Log Theatre’s red hot show A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.

For those unfamiliar with this show, A Gentleman’s Guide won a Tony Award for Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical in 2014, also being nominated for Best Original Score. The musical chronicles the rise of a man of humble origins who discovers that his mother was disowned by rich ne’er-do-well relatives. His solution? Social climbing by, you guessed it, murder.

One of the show’s schticks is that the large cast of murder victims are played by a single actor. In this case, that’s one David Beukema, who morphs into an octet of various personages of both sexes – each of whom is offed in a different, funny way. The charming yet murderous protagonist, Monty Navarro, played with effervescent charisma by Max Wojtanowicz. Whether butting heads or bonding to murderous effect, Beukema and Wojtanowicz’s stage chemistry sizzles. Their duet “Better with a Man” is one of the funniest and most rousing moments in the show. Beukema especially shines in the extended number “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun”, a piece that tops itself again and again.

Monty Navarro (Max Wojtanowicz, right) stands on the moral precipice of whether or not to save one of the morally reprehensible D’Ysquiths (David Beukema) who is literally dangling over a precipice. Photo courtesy of the Old Log Theatre.

In adapting this show to the Old Log’s stage, director Eric Morris has played up many of the show’s ample comedy aspects, particularly in the ensemble numbers that link and comment on various events. Look in the background of many numbers, and you’ll see a comic underthrust that enhances, rather than distracts, and more than a few throwaway visual gags.

As the title states, this show is about both murder and love. Although the two get intertwined, the latter is also one of the standout features of the book, score, and casting. Emily Scinto is a scene-and-song-stealing Sibella Hallward, one of Monty’s two love interests. As Phoebe D’Ysquith, Monty’s other love interest, Elizabeth Hawkinson sells what could be a more homely and less interesting character as a vividly sketched introvert. There are only a handful of scenes and songs when all three appear at the same time, but they are quite memorable – from the uproariously funny “I’ve Decided to Marry You” and the Dinner Scene to “That Horrible Woman”.

A tour through the history of the D’Ysquith family – one of several setups in the show for potshots at misguided 19th-century scientific mindsets, colonial paternalism, and other British imperial conceits. Pictured: Deidre Cochran, Caleb Michael, Suzie Juul, Like Davidson, Sharayah Lynn Bunce, Gabriel Sell, and Max Wojtanowicz. Photo courtesy of the Old Log Theatre.

If the moral police attacked musicals the way that they attack video games, you’d probably see headlines like “Dangerous Musical Seduces Youth to Murder” or “10 Shocking Ways A Gentleman’s Guide Leads You Astray”. Since they usually don’t, however, see this review’s headline.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder plays through February 15, 2020 at the Old Log Theatre in Excelsior, MN.

Basil Considine