A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
- By gentleguide
- On Sun 01 sep 2019
In the delightfully comic A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (opening September 6 at the DM Playhouse), we meet Monty Navarro, played by Zachary Smith. Born into poverty, Monty discovers after his mother dies that he’s actually a member of royalty, albeit distantly. He’s the ninth in line for an Earldom and the wealth it would provide. If only he didn’t have to wait for eight other people to die before he could become rich....
Why Are All the D’Ysquith’s Dying?
Thus begins the adventure for Monty, and his encounters with the D’Ysquith clan (the eight members of which are played by a single actor, Brett Spahr). Encouraging him in their own ways are his mistress Sibella (Maggie Schmitt) and his fiancée Phoebe (Courtney Kayser). Is Monty really a ruthless murderer, climbing his way up the inheritance ladder? Or simply reaping the benefits of some incredible and extremely timely good fortune?
Smith has his own view of events. “Every time someone asks about the show, I tell them the same thing: ‘It's a hilarious farce about eight different murders, only some of which I am responsible for!’ And when I inevitably see their concerned faces, I always tell them, ‘Trust me, you won't feel bad about any of the people I... er... take care of.’
“For those more familiar with musical theatre canon, I would compare it to some of the musical comedies of the first half of the 20th century; it's a bright, fast-moving comedy that we don't take too seriously, with just a hint of dark modern humor. It's a lovely English trifle, light and fluffy, but with a note of sherry in the cream to give it a little kick.”
The Last One You’d Expect
It may seem odd that the “hero” of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is, well, apparently a murderer. I asked Smith if he sees Monty as a heroic figure or a tragic one?
“You know, it's a difficult question to answer, whether or not Monty is a real hero. He's certainly not a traditional protagonist, but I think there's enough terrible people in the musical theatre canon that he's not too far outside of the music theatre tradition. Take Sweeney Todd, or Bialystock and Bloom from The Producers: their end goals certainly aren't legal, much less moral. And yet, we still tend to root for them. We want Sweeney to get his revenge, as bloody as that revenge may be, and we want the producers to get away with their half-baked tax fraud and sail away to Rio.
“That said, the show certainly doesn't take a particularly condemnatory tone toward Monty and his actions. He's still allowed to be a charming and lovable guy throughout the show, despite his many, many crimes. I think, ultimately, my goal, as the character, is to try to make the audience forget that the murders I'm committing are, technically, horrific acts of violence. And luckily, my co-star, Brett Spahr, helps me a lot in that endeavor, by portraying each of the despicable D'Ysquiths as uproarious parodies of the wealthy elite. I think that if Brett and I do our jobs correctly, you won't remember that eight people died during this show until you walk out of the theatre, sides still aching from laughter.“
Foolish to Think
Smith and the rest of his incredible Gentleman’s Guide cast work very hard to make this comedy fest feel light and breezy. And its very easy to miss how difficult this show is to pull off effectively (especially for Spahr, playing eight different roles in the course of the evening!) Even Smith thought it was going to be smooth sailing... at first.
“I would like to issue a formal apology to Bryce Pinkham, the actor who originated the role of Monty on Broadway,” says Smith, “as well as Kevin Massey, the actor I saw perform the role on its first national tour.”
“Bryce and Kevin, when I saw [A Gentleman’s Guide] the first time, I thought this was a light, breezy show that never demanded much of its actors, and that your role was one that most actors with a little comedic training could knock out of the park without much trouble. I assumed it was an easy role in a simple, little farce, and I walked out of the theatre thinking mostly about how hard it must have been for John Rapson, the man who played all the D'Ysquiths in the show. I now realize, that I was terribly, terribly wrong, and that you two deserved far more credit than I ever gave you.”
“Honestly, I didn't learn how wrong I was until we finally did the first full run-through of the show. And when I did, I learned the truth hard: this show is difficult for Monty! Not only because of the sheer amount of material I had to learn, but also because the character never gets a break! I think I spend about ten minutes total, during this 2 and a half hour show, offstage. I spend the other 140 minutes onstage, either singing, acting, or both. At its hardest, I spend almost 40 straight minutes running back and forth across the stage before I finally get a chance to slip backstage and get a quick drink of water. But that's not even the hardest part of it. The hardest part is that the rest of the cast and I have to spend all that time making the show look as easy as possible!”
“That's the real wonder of the show, I think. It's such a well-polished show that the audience never gets a chance to see just how much effort all the actors are putting into it! And it's not just the named cast; the ensemble has to run from song to song to song, dancing all the way through, and making almost as many costume changes as the D'Ysquith family all along the way! Really, they're the unsung heroes of this production.”
“I wouldn't get half the laughs this show offers if I didn't have such wonderful, wonderful people to work with. And, if we do the job right, hopefully you'll never know just how hard we're working up there.”
You can enjoy all the hard work, laughter, and music when A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder opens at the DM Playhouse. The show starts September 6 and runs through September 29. Tickets are available through the DM Playhouse website, by calling 515-277-6261, or by visiting the Playhouse box office in person at 831 42nd Street in Des Moines. And pick up a few tips on both love and murder for yourself!
Cast photos by Steve Gibbons, courtesy of the Des Moines Playhouse.