The Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder needs more mayhem, less romance

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Lesley McKinnell Kevin Massey, and John Rapson cavort on the ice in A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder.

The title pretty much gives away what you are going to get in this touring production of the Tony Award-winning Broadway hit. There's plenty of love, and even more murder. The latter is a lot of fun. The former? Not so much.

The musical is based on a turn-of-the-century novel by Roy Horniman. It also takes plenty of cues from the 1949 film adaptation of the book, Kind Hearts and Coronets, down to having a single actor play all our gentleman's murder victims.

That murderer is the seemingly gentle-hearted Monty. At the top of the play, he has come back from his mother's funeral to find a visitor at his rundown flat. She has a surprising message for him: Monty is the scion of the incredibly rich and powerful D'Ysquith family (think "Downton Abbey" crossed with Monty Python's "Twit of the Year"). 

After Monty's initial appeal to become a part of his long-lost family are turned aside, his mind comes to a different solution. He is eighth in line to the family fortune. All he needs to do is give a few nudges off high rooftops and daubs of poison in the pudding to get to the top.

There are complications, of course, and those mainly come from the second half of the title. At the top of the show, he is in love with Sibelia, a young socialite who eventually marries for money, but always has a flame for Monty. As he begins his reign of terror upon his family, Monty falls for his cousin, Phoebe, who he is pleased to know is behind in line to the top of the family and won't be a victim. (Really, isn't that what love is all about?)

While these storylines eventually merge with the murderous main one, they aren't nearly as sharp. The various off-kilter murders allow the actors and the production to really push this to the absurd: one victim gets decapitated by an overloaded barbell, while another shoots herself in the head (offstage, of course) in the final moments of Hedda Gabler. To illustrate this gruesome end, the actors who are onstage are showered with red and black confetti, representing the final performance of the poor actress.

Meanwhile, the lovey-dovey storyline just has lots of mooning between Monty and either one of his sweethearts, with little of the bite we see in the rest of the show. It doesn't help that the songs by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak really aren't much to write home about. While the score has a nice early 20th-century vibe to it, there is little here that will stick in the mind even seconds after it is done. 

The touring company is solid, led by the fresh-faced and engaging Kevin Massey as Monty. He is what you need in this show: someone you like, even as he becomes a serial killer. The real star is John Rapson, who steps into Alec Guinness' role (really, if you haven't seen Kind Hearts and Coronets, you should track it down if only to see Obi-Wan in one of his signature performances) as the poor, poor victims of the D'Ysquith family. They are an unlikable lot, both male and female, and Rapson does his best to make each of them distinct villains, such as the odious Asquith D'Ysquith, Jr., who lords over the family estate like some anti-Lord Grantham, strutting around in a perpetual scowl and battling with his wife (an equally game Kristien Mengelkoch).

Two-thirds of a good time is better than none, but A Gentleman Guide's to Love & Murder lacks the consistent bite needed to make it a winner.

IF YOU GO:

A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder

Through Sunday

State Theatre

805 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis

$39 to $134

For tickets and more information, call 1-800-859-7469 or visit online.


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