Encore Michigan

The Dio’s ‘Gentleman’s Guide’ is delicious with Payton and Moan

Review August 24, 2019 David Kiley

PINCKNEY, Mich.–A man who finds himself in line to a nobleman’s fortune goes about cleverly and humorously bumping off each heir ahead of him. It’s ruthless. But pumped full of wry humor and delivered by a band of clever, engaging actors, and it all seems in good in fun. In fact, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder works because we root for the killer.

Gentleman’s Guide, which had a very successful Broadway run and touring schedule, is now being offered to regional theaters and The Dio Dining & Entertainment has chosen a first-rate cast to deliver the delightful tale on its stage.

Based on an early 20th century novel by Roy Horniman called Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal, the musical also borrows from the 1949 film “Kind Hearts and Coronets” starring Alec Guinness.

The show opens with Lord Montague D’Ysquith (David Moan) writing his memoirs on the eve of his execution. The story then recalls the death of his mother, a washer-woman who was actually the member of an aristocratic family, though she was disowned after marrying a Spaniard. Montague is nevertheless ninth in the line to the Earldom.

“Monty” gets about getting close to each heir standing in his way, starting with #8, then #7, then #6, #5 and so on, each dying from unfortunate “accidents” (wink wink)–falling through the ice, falling off a roof, an attack of bees, a poisoning, and so on.

Each D’Ysquith is played deliciously by Richard Payton, who performs a dizzying number of off-stage costume changes as he becomes a boozy minister, a gay beekeeper, a society-lady adventurer, a boorish fox hunter. Payton has an elastic humor that works whether he is in a dress, beekeeper’s helmet, or minster’s cassock. The writing of this story, starting with Horniman’s novel and flowing through Robert Freedman’s book and lyrics, is terrific British farce, with a touch of “doors” comedy when Monty toggles between two women in separate rooms, both of whom want to marry him.

The song, “It’s Better With A Man,” performed by Moan and Payton is alone worth the price of admission. The two actors have wonderful chemistry and should be paired again.

Moan is a delight as the winking Monty, smooth, suave, conniving with an heir of “oh gosh, me?” The actor has played the Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Sir Lancelot, and he finds Monty somewhere in between. And he does well to keep up with Payton, whose facial and vocal acting is such that I was sure one of the actors was going to break a smile in a scene where she had to keep a stone face.

The music, supported here by a track rather than an orchestra, works in service of a truly exceptional troupe of singers, directed by Marlene Inman. Moan’s training in both opera and musical theater gets put on display. Sarah Brown as Phoebe D’Ysquith is both funny as Monty’s love target, and in beautiful voice. Angela Hench as Sibella Hallward, also trained in opera, brings her musical comedy chops to the role, and her vocals elevate to knock us over a few times. Carrie Sayer, Olive Hayden-Moore, Maika Van Ousterhout and Lydia Adams have all played lead roles or lead character roles and over-deliver in their ensemble roles. Jared Schneider, too, can bowl you over with a note from his lovely vocal range. Mark Anthony Vukelich and Michael Bessom round out an exceptional group effort.

A very well executed and functional set is designed by Matthew Tomich (2019 Wlde Award winner). It is a background that serves as a credible backdrop for Edwardian England. But there is a center portal leading to a rear projection screen, and in that portal, the production is able to change locations with ease: Egypt, an ice skating rink, a forest, a cemetery, etc. Here again, Mr. Tomich’s craftsmanship is on display with razor sharp lines and joints all over the set. Tomich is also credited with the projection work and sound design. Costumes by Norma Polk were spot on for early 1900s. Props by Eileen Obradovich are carefully chosen for the period.

Gentleman’s Guide, directed by Steve DeBruyne (2019 Wilde Award winner) is teeming with laughs, giggles and smiles, even as D’Ysquith after D’Ysquith get bumped off. But it is all in service to a fun night, so off with their heads.

The Dio is a dinner theatre, and this production comes with the theater”s signature fried chicken, as well as D’Ysquith roast beef, vegetables, salad and potatoes. The beef option is gluten free for those with diet considerations. Patrons may bring their own wine.

Week of 11/27/2023

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