“Not exactly,” Monty Navarro replies when asked if he’s a criminal. In fact, he is exactly a murderer.
The hero(ish) of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is a charmer who convinces us it’s OK for him to bump off eight noblemen and noblewomen who stand between him and a title because all of those stuffed shirts were vain goons who weren’t very nice to his late mother.
A fizzy, ice-cream soda of a show with a soupçon of class struggle, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is the musical that Oscar Wilde would have written if he’d had the foresight to see what a cash cow it could be. Old Log Theatre’s version may not be as lavish as the national tour that visited Minneapolis in 2016, but it is fleeter and funnier.
From a prison cell, Monty tells us about the murders, as well as his courtship of two lovely ladies (he’s a busy guy). The show is structured as loose diary entries in which Monty (Max Wojtanowicz) matter-of-factly describes his dastardly deeds, and a big part of the fun is how “Gentleman” depicts the increasingly inventive murders, which include death by bee sting, death while ice skating and a corpse that ends up in a savory stew. Director Eric Morris and scenic/lighting designer Erik Paulson didn’t have the budget the tour had, so they relied on ingenuity instead. That skating murder, for instance, takes place on a rink suggested by a large piece of fabric that gets reconfigured into the freezing water in which we watch Monty’s victim drown.
All eight of the people who stand between Monty and a lordship, men and women alike, are played by David Beukema, who finds octuple ways to represent exaggerated, dopey entitlement. (The concept is obviously based on the 1949 Alec Guinness film comedy “Kind Hearts and Coronets.”) He’s a hoot and so is Wojtanowicz, whose wry asides and winning voice convince us it’s possible to be a romantic lead/villain/musical comedy hero. All 10 of the cast members play multiple roles so capably that you could pick any song — Beukema’s “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun,” let’s say — and find all of the non-singing actors in the scene making character-appropriate, inventive, not-pulling-focus choices.
Wilde would have loved “Better With a Man,” an ode to what his lover famously called “the love that dare not speak its name.” And “I’ve Decided to Marry You,” a door-slamming, “Three’s Company”-style situation in which Monty tries to attend to both of his loves in adjoining rooms, is a comic tour de force. I do wonder, though, if the latter is the best song in the show because it sounds so much like “Kiss Me” from “Sweeney Todd”?
If I have any complaint about this delightful show, it’s that the operetta-ish songs are the least clever things in it. They’re just clever enough, though, and if it’s been a while since you visited the Old Log Theatre, the sterling performances and sparkling script make “Gentleman’s Guide” well worth a trip.