The verdict: ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder’ commits guilty pleasures at Shakespeare Theatre in Madison

Christopher Sutton as Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith, Miles Jacoby as Montague “Monty” Navarro, and the cast, in 'A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder' at STNJ. Photo by Avery Brunkus.



I can’t reveal much about A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, now at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison through June 9, 2024.

This musical comedy is crammed with so many clever and wicked twists that it would be a crime against inhumanity to rob you of the hilarity it inflicted on me for two hours and 15 minutes over the weekend.

Miles Jacoby as Montague “Monty” Navarro, and the cast, in ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder’ at STNJ. Photo by Avery Brunkus.

Let’s just say: A little murder never hurt anyone, right?

Director Brian B. Crowe has gambled by starting his first season as STNJ artistic director with the venue’s first musical in about a dozen years. This one is an inspired choice.

Inspired by…

Israel Rank, The Autobiography of a Criminal, a 1907 novel by Roy Horniman. This in turn inspired Kind Hearts and Coronets, a 1949 British film comedy starring Sir Alec Guinness. Which begat A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder in 2013 on Broadway, where its four Tony Awards included Best Musical.

The cast of ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder’ at STNJ. Photo by Avery Brunkus.

This is an Edwardian tale of stick-it-to-the-aristocracy, courtesy of playwrights Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak.

Montague “Monty” Navarro, played with a devilish cock of the eyebrow by tall and handsome Miles Jacoby (Broadway understudy, The Book of Mormon; Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys national tour), is determined to avenge his late mother’s disinheritance by the snobby D’Ysquith family.

Monty determines that rightfully, he is in line to become an earl. Wrongfully, he plots to do what any wronged would-be aristocrat would do: Jump the line by killing the eight D’Ysquiths ahead of him.

Christopher Sutton as Asquith D’Ysquith Jr., Francesca Mehrotra as Miss Evangeline Barley, and Miles Jacoby as Montague “Monty” Navarro.  Photo by Avery Brunkus.

Mindful of our No Spoilers pledge, I won’t share details of Monty’s cunning dispatches, except to say he never ventures into Sweeney Todd’s culinary territory.

Pay close attention to the scenery and props and you will be richly rewarded.

The first act takes its time setting everything in motion. When Monty gets entangled in a love triangle that threatens to unravel his well laid plans, Act Two shifts into high gear.

This triumph of comic timing is executed by a fine professional cast, of which all but two members are newcomers to the Madison stage.

Supported by a punchy five-piece orchestra led by seasoned Conductor Doug Oberhamer, the actors romp through numbers ripe with double takes and double entrendres: I Don’t Understand the Poor, Better With a Man, Why Are All the D’Ysquiths Dying? and Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun, to name a few favorites.

Claire Leyden as Sibella Hallward, Miles Jacoby as Montague “Monty” Navarro, and Eryn LeCroy as Phoebe D’Ysquith. Photo by Avery Brunkus.

Especially strong vocal performances are delivered by Monty’s love interests, Claire Leyden as his hot-blooded paramour Sibella, and Eryn LeCroy as his sweet fiancée, Phoebe D’Ysquith.

LeCroy began her career at the Shakespeare Theatre as an acting apprentice, and left to pursue musicals. The quest led her to Broadway — where Hal Prince cast her as Christine Daaé in The Phantom of the Opera. She also starred as Martha Jefferson and Dr. Lyman Hall in a Broadway revival of 1776.

LeCroy and Leyden are splendid as Jacoby’s Monty frantically mediates I’ve Decided to Marry You. The ladies sing powerful closing legal arguments in That Horrible Woman.

Saving the best for last…

Christopher Sutton as Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith in ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder’ at STNJ. Photo by Avery Brunkus.

Christopher Sutton should be the highest-paid member of this cast. He plays all the D’Ysquith heirs — from a tipsy minister to the pompous earl. At the very least, his breakneck costume changes deserve some sort of award.

To say Sutton died on stage is no insult. Like Sir Alec Guinness in the old film version, he meets his maker multiple times in this production. And he does so with aplomb. Clearly, he brings some chops from his stint in Monty Python’s Spamalot, directed by Mike Nichols.

As for the ending…


… A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder ends on June 9. If you need some laughs, lots of laughs, kill yourself to catch this show.

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison presents its first musical in more than a decade, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, through June 9, 2024. Tickets: $20-$85. At Drew University, 36 Madison Ave., 973-408-5600.

LUCKY MONTY: Miles Jacoby as Montague “Monty” Navarro with Eryn LeCroy as Phoebe D’Ysquith, left; and with Claire Leyden as Sibella Hallward, in ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder’ at STNJ. Photos by Avery Brunkus.

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