It is easy to see why "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" won the Best Musical Tony in 2014.
First, consider the competition, which included the limp "Aladdin" and the thin Carole King tribute "Beautiful," so titled for its music, not its stagecraft.
But "Gentleman's Guide" also is the kind of show Broadway loves. The national tour that opened a week's run at the State Theatre in Minneapolis on Tuesday night shows off a quaint, stylish conceit and cheeky humor that manages to be both droll and slapstick (murders by bee sting, cannibals and decapitation by barbell).
Too, it revels in an original theatricality that stands out amid the knockoffs, jukeboxes and repurposed movies ("Hamilton" and "Fun Home" excepted, of course).
"Gent's Guide" owes its life to a 1907 novel and a 1949 film that told the story of a fetching young outsider who is denied access to his family fortune. He then goes about manufacturing the deaths of eight heirs so he can claim the heritage.
The real meat on these bones, though, is provided by a single actor who portrays all the victims, members of the despicable D'Ysquith (DIE-squith) clan.
Stylistically, this musical by Robert Freedman (book and lyrics) and Steven Lutvak (music and lyrics) begs, borrows and steals from most everything. There's a moment of door-slamming bedroom farce, homages to "My Fair Lady" and Gilbert & Sullivan, melodrama and cheesy romance. Squint and you can glimpse "La Cage's" foppish charm. And should you lose focus (which can happen during the second act), your mind might wonder how this Edwardian spoof would play at Downton Abbey.
Lutvak's music is fine if unmemorable, harking back to old-fashioned musicals in its rhythms and cadences. He and Freedman jam every bar with clever ditties and one gets the feeling toward the end of the evening that an awful lot of words and music have been spent on something so inconsequential.
A well-made confection can be a guilty pleasure. The production looks sumptuous, with a jewel-box proscenium that accommodates a dozen locations and lavish, gorgeous costumes, by Alexander Dodge and Linda Cho.
Kevin Massey brings a winning (and winking) light tenor air to the main character of Monty Navarro. The "Love" portion of the title is provided by Kristen Beth Williams and Adrienne Eller, beautiful plastic caricatures who flutter along in tune.
The murders are more fun than foul, thanks to the deliciously big performance of John Rapson, who shuttles among all eight victims. Rapson portrays an addled priest with mutton chops one moment, a beefy dowager the next, a patrician banker, an Oxford dandy and the very model of a dreadful British gentleman.
If it feels that at this point I am about to drop another shoe, you are correct. "Gentleman's Guide" gives us much to admire in its craft, arch wit and effort (too much effort?). The audience Tuesday night, though, took a while to warm up to the idea that it must — just must! — come along on this giddy ride.
A diversion, yes. A memorable night in the theater? Only sort of.