From left: Caroline Brown, Angel Santiago, Cathy Moubray in Cocoa Village Playhouse production of A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER. Photo by Jonathan Goforth.
By KEENAN CARVER
Brevard Culture Theater Critic
Cocoa Village Playhouse’s Broadway on Brevard series is back with another astounding show and cast. During the “Prologue,” from the jump, one gets a sense of what a clean and precise show “A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER” will be. It isn’t long after, and you realize how this witty and hilarious show has become a favorite of many.
The local premiere, this vivacious performance has book and lyrics by Robert. L. Freeman, music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak, and is based on the novel “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal”. It won four Tony’s in 2014, including one for Best Musical.
Despite its recent notoriety, you may walk into the theater knowing very little about the Tony award-winning musical. It concerns low-born and impoverished Monty Navarro who finds out he is eighth in line to be Earl in the D’Ysquith family. Fueled by his need to impress the apple of his eye Sibella Hallward (Caroline Brown), he is catapulted into a murderous adventure to kill his way to becoming Earl. Indeed, much to the appeal of “Sweeney Todd,” the show’s keyhole view into the mind of a serial killer is indisputably a significant component to its allure. But this is a comedy that gets you laughing at the get-go.As Navarro, Angel Santiago has a magnetic charm that proves him capable of being the champion of our story. An engineer by trade, Santiago was last seen in CVP’s “THE LITTLE MERMAID” as Sebastian, so it may take a moment to shake those recollections. Though relatively a newcomer to the stage, he’s scoring leading roles due to his energetic presence that he capitalizes as Navarro. Just as melodious as Navarro croons “Sibella,” Brown’s character floats around the stage donned in pinks, purples, and a Barbie-blonde wig. A vocal instructor in Cocoa Village by trade, it is expected that Brown’s vocal range should be unparalleled. What amazed the audience was the voice combined with a flirtatious, dynamic, and flawed character, which sets up Sibella to be the catalyst for Navarro’s adventure.
Navarro questions his motivation when he meets Phoebe D’Ysquith (Cathy Moubray), an estranged cousin to whom Navarro takes a liking to, creating one of the most exciting love triangles.
No stranger to the CVP stage, it’s evident Moubray has skills we have yet to see. Her character is reminiscent of a flower; radiant, elegant, effervescent and irresistible to Navarro. Her delicate persona as Phoebe, with her light, airy vocals indeed make her captivating on stage.
However, none hold a candle to the enthralling D’Ysquith Family played by James Spiva, whose comedic timing was put to the test and mastered in the role. Each of Spiva’s nine characters are distinct to the point you question whether it is indeed the same actor. His stamina lasts the duration of the show, swapping through male and female characters singing, dancing, ice-skating, riding a scooter, bee-keeping, traveling the world, and much more. There isn’t a dull moment with Spiva on stage.
Miss Marietta Shingle (Brenda Sheets), Lady Eugenia (Jennifer Johnson), and Miss Evangeline Barley (Kari Ryan) are only a few of the talented supporting players that help bring the story of rags-to-riches to fruition.
The ensemble was tight, meaning there aren’t as many members as there could be, but there are just enough for strong story-telling. Each shines in Daniel Hill’s costumes which help blend the show thematically.
Hidden under the stage, CVP’s live orchestra, led by music director Michael Law, give bold, rhythmic energy to the show.The scenery, designed by Joseph Lark-Riley and realized by scenic artists Sheryl Koby and set construction leader Brian Brown was spot on with imagery and special effects. It was undoubtedly a complex concept but designed so cohesively that it looks simple and fits every moment uniquely. Stage manager Robert Johnson runs the scenic changes flawlessly.
The use of multimedia, such as projection and digital backdrop, is a growing ingredient of contemporary musicals and is well utilized. Married with classic technical elements, the musical in all is a well-balanced piece.
Director Pamela Larson has led a trophy of a musical. Everyone should swarm to see “A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER” while it plays at CVP for two more weekends.
SIDE O’ GRITS: A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER opens March 8 and runs through March 24 at Cocoa Village Playhouse, 300 Brevard Ave., Cocoa, FL. Tickets are $18 to $26. Call 321-636-5050 or visit CocoaVillagePlayhouse.com.