Most New York critics gave killer reviews to the musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” which premiered last year at Hartford Stage and which opened on Broadway Sunday night at the Walter Kerr Theatre.
Leading the cheers was Charles Isherwood of The New York Times who called the show “daffy, inspired…This delightful show will lift the hearts of all those who’ve been pining for what sometimes seems a lost art form: musicals that match streams of memorable melody with fizzily witty turns of phrase…”
Speaking of the show’s star Jefferson Mays, Isherwood called it “a true tour de force that is hardly likely to be bettered on Broadway this season (apologies to the magnificent Mark Rylance, and those two knights, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, performing Beckett and Pinter in repertory), Mr. Mays sings, dances, ice-skates, bicycles and generally romps through some eight roles — flipping among personas male, female and somewhere in between — at a pace that sets your head spinning…. His brilliant performance deserves to be immortalized in Broadway lore for some time to come.
Of the music by Steven Lutvak and Robert L. Freedman, Isherwood says: “their score…establishes itself as one of the most accomplished (and probably the most literate) to be heard on Broadway in the past dozen years or so, since the less rigorous requirements of pop songwriting have taken over.”
Entertainment Weekly gave the show an “A” rating, saying: “Overkill has seldom been more enjoyable than in ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,’ a thoroughly delightful and uproarious new Broadway musical…Quite simply, it's a bloody good time.”
Associated Press called the show a “hilarious satire on Edwardian melodrama, featuring the incomparable and seemingly tireless Jefferson Mays in eight roles…The farcical vaudevillian tour de force features a book by Robert L. Freedman, rousing music by Steven Lutvak, and wry, wonderful lyrics by Freedman and Lutvak that call to mind the light-hearted puns and wit of Noel Coward. Darko Tresnjak directs with a flair for slapstick surprises and exuberantly cheesy sight gags and special effects, while Peggy Hickey provides clever choreography for the versatile ensemble.”
Variety said that the “English music hall format is the perfect performance style for this adorably wicked show….Visually, this stylish spoof of Edwardian manners and (lack of) morals mocks its own high style, as defined by class-act helmer Darko Tresnjak, a.d. of Hartford Stage, where the show preemed. Tucked inside the gaudy frame of an English music hall stage, Alexander Dodge’s colorful set looks like a dollhouse inhabited by living dolls, gorgeously gowned by Linda Cho.”
From The Hollywood Reporter: “The Broadway musical can often seem a hermetic art form, with the same handful of directors bringing their signature stamps to the majority of new projects. This is a case where a creative team of first-timers yields rewards across the board. That applies to the devilish book by Robert L. Freedman; to Steven Lutvak’s tuneful songs; and to the inventive direction of Darko Tresnjak, a seasoned veteran of the Off Broadway and regional trenches, graduating to theatrical primetime with honors…The material clearly has benefited from the fine-tuning rigors of two pre-Broadway runs, at Hartford Stage and San Diego’s Old Globe….This bright little jewel is a legitimate treat.”
USA Today: “Jefferson Mays, whose shape-shifting and comedic gifts are on glorious display in ‘A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder’ (***½ out of four stars), the delightful new musical romp that opened Sunday.”
Even less-than-enthusiastic reviews for the most part had elements to praise.
NY Daily News gave it three out of five stars. “Directed by Darko Tresnjak, the production is a high-gloss beaut. The best part: the two leads. Bryce Pinkham sings like a dream and brings great appeal to the murderous Monty. ‘I Am My Own Wife”’Tony winner Jefferson Mays musters big laughs as Monty’s victims….the score, and, alas, it’s a bit of bore. Composer Steven Lutvak wrote lyrics with Freedman. Their songs are consistently cute — and that’s it. There’s not one number that really stands out.”
The Huffington Post: “Everything about the show is so likable. I left ‘Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder’ having had a perfectly pleasant time with a pair of talented new theatre-writers, in the company of a delightful cast. But rousing? No.”
New York Magazine: “What this material needed from its songs, and does not get, is exactly what Mays brought to his task: a strong, clear, distinctive profile. Without it, for all its merits, the show never quite achieves musical liftoff. You want the score to raise the dead, not just bury them.”
NY Post: “The droll tone and Edwardian setting should lure BBC fans, but this ‘Guide’ has nothing on ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ — the 1985 caper musical that was successfully revived last year.