The longer I write theater reviews, the more familiar I find myself becoming—at least via playbills—with the talent overflowing from Chicago’s stages. What’s more, I figured it would only be a matter of time before I started seeing the same actors pop up in new productions. (It’s a credit to this theater-crazed city that so much talent is willing to work here for a pittance of a living.) So it was no huge surprise when I realized I recognized two actors in Porchlight Music Theatre’s new presentation of the multiple Tony Award-winning A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, a thoroughly wonderful musical comedy about an average Joe in line for an earldom and the lengths he’ll go to get to the top of the list.
Andrés Enriquez stars as Monty Navarro, who finds out after his mother’s death that he’s actually a D’Ysquith, an aristocratic family who’d disowned her when she ran off to marry someone they didn’t approve of. Turns out he’s just eighth in line to a title, land and wealth—more of each than he ever imagined. While Enriquez winningly embodies Monty’s charm and ingenuity, it’s Jeff Award winner Matt Crowle who steals the show as every member of the D’Ysquith family that must meet their maker in order for Monty to get his due. Crowle wows again here, after earning the city’s top acting honors as Charley Kringas in Porchlight’s production of Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along last season. He was so good in that show, it warranted its own shout-out in my review. Cast as Sibella Hallward, Monty’s initial love interest (things change as the show progresses), is a golden-voiced Emily Goldberg, who I also saw last year, albeit in a show I enjoyed less than Merrily. With a supporting role in The Spitfire Grill, Goldberg and cast couldn’t overcome the weak material; but even then, I noted that the talented ensemble would likely go on to bigger and better shows…and now, here she is a strong contribution to a particularly impressive production.
Gentleman’s Guide, like many of Porchlight’s marquee presentations, started as a big-budget Broadway affair, staged in a large theater with extensive props, full orchestra, etc. Here directed (and choreographed) by Stephen Schellhardt, the production team (Angela Webber Miller on scenic design, Jeff Hendry on costumes) makes quite a bit out of much less wiggle-room in Porchlight’s relatively small house. Though a few lighting cues seemed a bit off (should that actor be in such shadow at this moment? I don’t think so…), it’s a small quibble in what’s otherwise another winning production from one of the most reliably entertaining companies in Chicago’s theatrical landscape. Set in 1909, the costumes are delightfully ornate, if appropriately conservative; at one point, I found myself thinking what fun it must’ve been for Ann Delaney (Phoebe D’Ysquith, a cousin and, as a woman, not a threat to Monty) to attend fittings and discover the colorful, feminine creations Hendry had in store for her.
Like Gypsy and others before it, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder‘s official run has already been extended, with performances on now through March 16. I braved the Polar Vortex to catch the show and gratefully, everyone in the cast repaid its audience’s dedication with a comedic commitment (led so delightfully by Crowle) that made the brutal wind chill seem like an afterthought. As the mercury gets back above freezing over the next few weeks (really, it can only go up from here), there’s no excuse to miss this one.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder by Porchlight Music Theatre, at Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St. Tickets run $39-$66 and are available, with a full performance schedule, here.
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