‘Gentleman’s Guide’ gets a mixed review

A scene from “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” playing at the Fox Theatre through Sept. 25.
A scene from “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” playing at the Fox Theatre through Sept. 25.

A dash of Monty Python and a dollop of vaudeville olio distinguishes the British black comedy “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” now on its first national tour at The Fox.

For all its acclaim, Stephen Lutvak’s score is overall uninvolving and the plot seems like a parody of SNL’s “Master Thespian” sketches, as its theatricality is laid on thick.

If that is a style you enjoy, then this show is tailor-made for you. Wackiness ensues and the well-staged show is peppered with laugh-out-loud moments written by Tony winner Robert L. Freedman and zestily delivered by the entertaining leading men.

This throwback to another era springs to life through superb technical elements, as the set, stunning video projections, lighting and costumes help make the scenario palatable and plausible.

A pair of powerhouse principal performers stand out and made the overlong show worthwhile. Kevin Massey as the underdog Monty Navarro, whose diabolical plan to get the royal title he believes he deserves involves killing the eight heirs who stand in his way, and quicksilver chameleon John Rapson as the eight D’Ysquiths targeted for a dirt nap and one more.

Rapson is a marvel of motion, creating nine characters with distinctive voices and looks. It is one of those tour de force roles that will remain memorable. He’s Asquith D. D’Ysquith Jr. and Sr., Lord Adalbert, Rev. Lord Ezekial, Lady Hyacinth, Henry and Major Lord Bartholomew D’Ysquith, Lady Salome D’Ysquith Pumphrey and Chauncey.

Massey, slick in song and dance, gains our sympathy despite his wicked murderous tendencies. “Poison in My Pocket” is catchy.

Actually, the play picks up as he starts mowing down these hideous entitled snobs in increasingly clever and outrageous ways. The twists become twisted.

Kristen Beth Williams, as shallow Sibella, fails to draw us in and convince us to care, but Adrienne Eller, as fiancé Phoebe, fares better. Sound hampered Williams, whose songs “I Don’t Know What I’d Do” and “Poor Monty” did not connect.

Eller’s “I Want to Marry You” is broad, funny and full of slapstick, with shenanigans courtesy of a cheating Monty and a nosy Sibella.

Scenic designer Alexander Dodge recreated a theater within a theater, harkening back to vaudeville palaces. One can imagine being back on the Goldenrod Showboat. The vivid video project work of Aaron Rhyne enhances the show and adds another dimension to the storytelling.

Stage Manager J. Jason Daunter, a native St. Louisan, kept things moving at a brisk pace, but as written, Act I is way too long. Act II picked up, and eventually lead to a Day of Reckoning.

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”

When: Now through Sept. 25

Where: The Fox Theatre, St. Louis

Information: MetroTix 314-534-1111 or www.fabulousfox.com