by Shirley Lorraine
Murder, mayhem & music take stage in Simi
The year span is 1907-09. The tale, told in retrospect as a jail-house memoir, is one of deception, death and dastardly deeds. Set to music. The audience is warned that what they are about to see may be disturbing and, if they are easily offended, they are free to leave the theater now.
And so, presented by the Actor’s Repertory Theatre of Simi, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, the Tony-award winning musical penned by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutyak, begins at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center.
The vocal range of the cast is simply superior. Operatic in places, often reminiscent of Gilbert & Sullivan in its rapid-fire delivery, the lyrics are delivered with impertinence and impunity throughout. What a treat.
Montague “Monty” Navarro (Vincent Perez), upon mourning his mother’s recent demise, is visited by a mysterious stranger, Miss Shingle (Sydney Bowers) who informs him that he, in fact, is a distant heir to the earldom of Highhurst Castle. There are a few minor problems, however. His presence is not recognized by Highurst residents the D’Ysquith family as his mother was disconnected from the line years ago, and there are eight heirs ahead of him for the title. No matter.
Young Monty is in love with Sibella Hallward (Deborah Robin) although she desires to marry for money over heart. Monty accepts the challenge and vows to make his way to the top of the heir-chain by seeing that each heir meets an untimely death. Along the way he intrigues and is pursued by Phoebe D’Ysquith (Siena Avila), a distant cousin.
The entire D’Ysquith line (nine characters) is played by Adam Womak, each character distinct although with uncanny resemblances. Womak is clearly reveling in the chance to play such varied roles and does so in fine fashion, pulling out all the stops.
Six additional seasoned actors fill in as servants, portraits (yes, portraits) and lesser characters to great effect. Adding to their inclusion are highly stylized movements, a wide range of vocal talents and full immersion in their roles. Each of them brings with them a long list of theatrical credits.
Director Will Shupe and musical director Gary Poirot must be especially proud of the abundance of talent this cast displays. There are no weak voices among them. In additional to their sheer strength, the actors are also using microphones to overcome the right-in-front live orchestra. At times the volume overrides the lyrics, but the voices are so fine it is still easy to be impressed.
Period costuming by Joshua Stapel is on point and beautifully styled. The lush fabrics and detailed designs are visually appealing works of art.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder presents a decidedly light-hearted foray in time. The high energy performance keeps the actors on their toes and the audience on the edge of their seats with anticipation of the next twist. Performances are crisp, vocals are superb, and the evening is highly satisfying.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder runs through July 14. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $28 adults, $24 seniors/students, $20 12 and under. (805) 583-7900 or www.simi-arts.org