Murder Most Funny In 'Gentleman's Guide'

He’s charming, well mannered, sensitive, and sings like an angel.

Make that a fallen angel.

Monty Navarro, the main character in the new musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, also happens to be a serial killer, a plot point that may be just a teensy bit disturbing for audiences—and must have been more than a little challenging for the show’s creators.

But that’s the twist—and the triumph—of this modest-in-scale but elegantly fashioned show, which premiered in October at Hartford Stage and is next set to run March 8–April 14 at the Old Globe in San Diego, which is co-producing. There are already reports of a possible commercial transfer to New York.

The show’s fascination comes not in the “whodunit” or the “why’d-he-do-it” of the story, but in the creative team’s “how’d-they-pull-it-off.” The answer—in this elegant A Little Night Murder of a production staged by Darko Tresnjak, artistic director of Hartford Stage, who has been shepherding the show for several years—is taste, tone and intent.

The musical revolves around Monty (Ken Barnett, recently seen in February House at the Public Theater in New York, and at Long Wharf Theatre in Connecticut), the oh-so-distant (as well as oh-so-poor) relation to one of England’s wealthiest families. Upon his sainted mother’s death, Monty learns that he is eighth in line to a Downton Abbey–sized fortune. Callous treatment from his relatives—and desperation to win a woman who desires money more than love—sets him on a path to eliminate those who stand in line to the fortune that he would inherit.

Robert L. Freedman based the musical’s book on the 1907 novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal by Roy Horniman, an Edwardian actor-manager. A contemporary of Oscar Wilde, Horniman wrote in a sardonic, epigram-rich style that slyly mocks the manners and mores of the British upper class at the turn of the last century. (The once-out-of-print book was republished in 2008 and is an entertaining but decidedly dark page-turner.)