A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder could end up on Broadway. We'll see. But buoyed by a rollicking, intoxicating first act (Act 2 is, by comparison, so-so), this irresistible force of silliness definitely has a Great White Way about it.
The new musical comedy by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak will go as far as Jefferson Mays can carry it, and that could be all the way to New York. A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, a co-production with Hartford Stage, is making its world premiere at The Old Globe Theatre, and it's Mays' house to have and to hold. Playing all the members of the D'Ysquith family (male and female), from a twittering preacher to a buxom suffragette, Mays is flat-out hysterical as he quick-changes from one character to another and endows each with broad comic brilliance. This kind of duty is not unprecedented for Tony Award winner Mays, who played more than 40 roles in Doug Wright's acclaimed I Am My Own Wife nearly a decade ago.
A Gentleman's Guide is based on Roy Horniman's novel, Israel Rank, as was the beloved 1949 film Kind Hearts and Coronets. (There, Alec Guinness portrayed eight members of the D'Ascoyne family.) The premise of the Edwardian-era romp is that a D'Ysquith discard named Monty Navarro (Ken Barnett) plots to kill off all eight members of the clan and become rightful earl. That would be Jefferson Mays times eight. Adding to the free-for-all, but far less fun than watching Monty do away with the various D'Ysquiths, is a love triangle with two lovelies (Lisa O'Hare and Chilina Kennedy) panting for the man who would be earl.
The murders, in all their sight-gag zaniness, are this show's (directed by Darko Tresnjak) selling point. All but one victim is offed by intermission, leaving the second act feeling rather flat. There's more emphasis on the story's romantic foibles and, in general, less Mays, and that's not optimal. Throughout, however, the tunes are jaunty and the lyrics delightfully fiendish.
For this show, the Globe is transformed into a stage within a stage, music hall-style, heightening A Gentleman Guide's farcical tone and facilitating its anything-goes goings-on. The murdering is more entertaining than the lovemaking in this show, but if the goal is to eventually make a killing on Broadway, all the better.
A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder runs through April 14 at The Old Globe Theatre. $39 and up. oldglobe.org
Accomplice San Diego: A different kind of theater happening—part play, part game—courtesy of La Jolla Playhouse's Without Walls program: Audience members arrive in Little Italy and experience the play around them as they walk through the neighborhood and respond to clues provided to them. Opens March 26. Find details at lajollaplayhouse.org.
An Inspector Calls: A detective arrives at the home of a wealthy businessman and politician and grills each member of the family about a young woman's death. Opens March 23 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Born Yesterday: A corrupt businessman hires a reporter to tutor his showgirl mistress in the ways of Washington, D.C., and she learns a little too much for his own good. Opens March 21 at Avo Playhouse in Vista. moonlightstage.com
Damien: In a one-actor production, Robert Smyth reprises his role as a Belgian priest who ministered to people suffering from leprosy on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. Opens March 22 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
The Fox on the Fairway: In what sounds like Caddy Shack lite, a country-club president is in danger of losing a bet when his ace golfer defects to the opposing team and his replacement becomes unhinged over a lost engagement ring. Opens March 22 at Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
Grey Gardens: Musical based on a documentary of the same name about Big Edie and Little Edie—Jackie Kennedy Onassis' aunt and cousin—and their descent from an opulent lifestyle. Presented by Ion Theatre Company, it opens March 23 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House: Director Kirsten Brandt and translator Anne-Charlotte Hanes Harvey present a new adaptation of the Norwegian playwright's famed feminist work. Opens March 23 in The Old Globe's Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Menopause The Musical: Four women meet in a department store and bond over that special time in every female's life. Presented by GFour Productions, it runs March 22 and 23 at the Balboa Theatre. sandiegotheatres.org
The Psychic: In this comedy, a struggling writer starts giving psychic readings in order to pay the rent and entangles himself in a murder mystery. Presented by Different Stages, it opens March 22 at The Swedenborgian Hall in University Heights. differentstages.biz
The Second City's Laughing Matters Tour: The Second City improvisational-theater troupe has been a veritable comedian factory since 1959. This tour combines new material with some of the group's classic sketches. Runs March 20 through 23 in a cabaret space in La Jolla Playhouse's Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre. lajollaplayhouse.org
The Mountaintop : In a fictional version of events, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spends his last night among the living in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. Presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it runs through March 31 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. sdrep.org
To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday : A man can't seem to get over the loss of his wife, who accidentally drowned. Now he's talking with her during nighttime beach walks and neglecting his daughter. Through April 13 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder : In this musical comedy set in Edwardian England, a man in need of treasure to win the love of a woman learns he's a distant heir to a fortune and begins murdering his way to the top of the family food chain. Through April 14 on The Old Globe Theatre's Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
Assassins : A carnival shooting gallery is the starting point for a musical about nine killers or would-be-killers of U.S. presidents. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through April 28 at The Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
Crime Pays : A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net