A good rule for making plays full of gratuitous deaths into comedies is to flesh the victims out as little as possible. When this show's villainous hero, Monty D'Ysquith-Navarro, played by Andres Enriquez, engineers the remorseless killing of all eight members of the D'Ysquith family who stand in the way of his becoming the next Earl of Highhurst, it should feel like the mowing down of quaint little cardboard dolls. And it does. When it won the Tony Award for Best Play in 2014, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder drew frequent comparisons to that iconic Broadway slasher, Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, and with good reason. But it's a different, frothier, less gruesome animal in any number of ways, the key one being that all eight fallen D'Ysquiths are played by one actor, in the case of this Porchlight production, the brilliant Matt Crowle, who steals the show.
Crowle's shifty-eyed charms only make it that much funnier to see his characters go splat, plunk, and kaput. His turn as the philanthropist Lady Hyacinth D'Ysquith is especially unhinged and delightful. He's the first among equals here: the singing in this Porchlight Music Theatre production is pretty much superb across the board and Enriquez gives a passionate performance. It's the chameleon Crowle's parade, though; when he gets going, even his scene partners stop and stare. Steven Schellhardt directs, with musical direction by Andra Velis Simon. v
Correction: An earlier version of this review stated that the accompanying music was pre-recorded. It is actually performed by a hidden live orchestra.