"A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder," the period musical comedy starring Jefferson Mays in multiple roles, opened at the Walter Kerr Theatre in New York on Sunday, following engagements at the Old Globe in San Diego and the Hartford Stage Co. in Connecticut.
The musical is adapted from the Roy Horniman novel that was the basis for the 1949 Alec Guinness movie "Kind Hearts and Coronets." Just as Guinness incarnated the members of the fictional D'Ysquith family, both male and female, Mays dons all sorts of costumes and wigs to evoke the aristocratic British family whose members are killed off by an ambitious social climber, played by Bryce Pinkham.
"Gentleman's" opened at the Old Globe in March after an engagement in Hartford in 2012. The musical is directed by Darko Tresnjak, who has long ties with Southern California from his days as an artistic director at the Old Globe. He currently serves as artistic director of Hartford Stage.
Mays received a Tony Award in 2004 for his solo performance in "I Am My Own Wife," the Doug Wright play that won the Pulitzer Prize for drama.
What did New York critics think of the musical?
Charles Isherwood of the New York Times writes that "bloodlust hasn’t sung so sweetly, or provided so much theatrical fun, since Sweeney Todd first wielded his razor with gusto many a long year ago." Mays is "dazzling" in multiple roles, and "the chameleonic performance he gives here" makes even his solo role in "I Am My Own Wife" seem simple by comparison.
The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney writes that "in an increasingly risk-averse Broadway landscape where more and more musicals come from mainstream-brand movies or hit song catalogues, this bright little jewel is a legitimate treat."
Thom Geier of Entertainment Weekly describes the musical as "winsome and charming despite an alarming surfeit of devious and devilish characters." Mays not only outdoes his "I Am My Own Wife" performance but also "outdoes himself over the course of the evening."
New York magazine's Jess Green writes that Mays pulls off the demands of the musical "brilliantly" but that the gimmick of casting him in multiple roles "ends up wagging the dog" in this production.