Call it the ultimate get-rich-quick scheme.
A fatal fall here. A drowning there. And Monty Navarro is well on his way to family fortune in the Tony Award-winning musical comedy "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder," officially launching its first national tour at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre.
"A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder"★ ★ ★ ½
Location: Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe, Chicago, (800) 775-2000, www.broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday with additional 7:30 p.m. show on Oct. 4; through Oct. 11
Running time: About 2½ hours with intermission
Parking: Nearby pay garages
Rating: Not for younger children; contains comic violence and sexual situations
The "Love" part is, well, more of a side note to this fun-filled tale of a young Brit's less-than-noble quest for nobility in Edwardian England. Chock full of kooky characters and comical songs by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, "A Gentleman's Guide" races along from scene to scene, fueled by its talented cast and devilish premise.
After his mother dies, Monty (Kevin Massey) discovers that she was a disinherited member of the wealthy D'Ysquith clan -- the daughter of a grandson of a nephew of an earl. Or something like that.
Eight relatives stand between Monty and the money, not to mention the title. So he sets out to trim a few branches from his family tree by meeting -- and murdering -- anyone ahead of him in the line of succession.
The pompous, dimwitted D'Ysquith heirs -- all played by the remarkable John Rapson -- make thinning their ranks almost easy, what with standing so temptingly close to a church tower parapet and adopting all sorts of hazardous hobbies.
In fact, one of the musical's many delights is the way it skewers the idle rich. Lord Adalbert D'Ysquith ticks off a number of pesky problems with the less fortunate in the hilarious song "I Don't Understand the Poor." Another laugh-out-loud number sends up clueless, cause-seeking society matrons with Monty's cousin Hyacinth (in one of Rapson's funniest turns) lamenting about how many charitable projects have already been snatched up by others. "What the devil's left?" she asks.
The deliciously over-the-top Rapson makes each D'Ysquith nuttier than the next. His comic timing is spot-on as he morphs from one memorable character to another, altering his voice and mannerisms with each costume change and comic death scene.
Massey manages a roguish charm as murderous Monty. And he's at his best in a madcap scene where he's dashing between the two women in his life: his vain, self-absorbed mistress Sibella (Kristen Beth Williams) and his sweet, marriage-minded cousin Phoebe (Adrienne Eller), who can count her lucky stars that she doesn't stand to inherit before Monty. Both women sing beautifully, and Williams, in particular, is a hoot.
The show, superbly directed by Darko Tresnjak, is top-notch, from Lindo Cho's lush period costumes to Alexander Dodge's whimsical sets. And Aaron Rhyne's inventive projections conjure multiple locales and plenty of great gags.
Throughout, "A Gentleman's Guide" fully embraces its far-fetched plot and, with the help of its game cast, makes bumping off blue bloods a bloody good time.