Out of all the national touring productions I’ve seen in recent years at the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC), A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder is hardly my favorite. In fact, I was dreading the thought of having to look down this barrel of a gun once again. But leave it to Raleigh Little Theatre to present a reason to reassess.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder chronicles the quest of Monty Navarro, a distant heir to the D’ysquith family fortune, to avenge his mother’s disinheritance, win over his childhood sweetheart, and become the ninth Earl of Highhurst. All he needs to do is find a way to knock off the eight D’ysquith heirs who succeed him.
In this production, Tyler Graeper is devilishly delightful as Monty. His vocals are on point and his knack for timing is the glue that holds the production together. Brian Westbrook as all the D’Ysquith heirs juggles multiple personas, and some very quick costume changes, masterfully. This quick-witted, highly physical, over-the-top performance is truly a tour-de-force. While Graeper and Westbrook carry the comedic weight of the piece, the women of Gentleman’s Guide do the heavy lifting musically. And Lauren Knott and Lauren Bamford are up to the task. For Knott, the role of Sibella, Monty’s first love, seems to be tailor-made for her skill set. For Bamford, the role of Phoebe D’Ysquith spotlights her stunning soprano. Together the pair tackle the more challenging parts of Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak’s stylish score flawlessly.
This is a lofty show. There are over 100 costume changes and nearly a dozen set changes, not to mention some technical tricks that could fail miserably. But Raleigh Little Theatre pulls it off brilliantly. This Gentleman’s Guide is not only laugh-out-loud funny and entertaining but also more refreshing than its Broadway counterpart presented at DPAC four years ago. And the biggest difference between the two productions comes down to intent.
While the national tour placed the focus merely on getting a laugh, which made the characterizations feel flat and the show tiresome, here, director Patrick Torres takes a much more introspective, thoughtful approach. Under Torres’ watchful eye, these capable actors balance exaggeration with just enough naturalism to make these ridiculous characters somewhat credible. Consequently, the comedy is purposeful, the audience is more invested, and the laughs are earned and well-deserved.
It’s a gamble that’s paid off and a testament to what testing limits, even for a well-oiled machine like Raleigh Little Theatre, can achieve.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder runs through September 8th at Raleigh Little Theatre. For more information visit: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/.