Every role was filled with perfection.

The cast of SVCT’s “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” Photo courtesy SVCT/Elizabeth Mandel 

By Camille Bounds

Camille Bounds

Manslaughter has never been so delightfully mischievous! South Valley Civic Theatre’s production of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is a wickedly clever, uproariously funny musical comedy that will leave you dying with laughter.

This Tony Award-winning show is a triumphant display of local talent, inspired direction, and technical brilliance. Directed and choreographed by Tressa Bender, the witty romp is an absolute enchantment from start to finish with a laugh-out-loud comical story. It runs four weekends until May 18 at Morgan Hill’s downtown Community Playhouse.

Based on the 1907 novel “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal” by Roy Horniman (which also inspired the classic 1949 film “Kind Hearts and Coronets”), “A Gentleman’s Guide” follows the story of “Monty Navarro” (played by the charming Chris Brady), a poor commoner who discovers he is ninth in line to become the Earl of Highhurst.

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Determined to claim his birthright, Monty sets out to eliminate the eight D’Ysquith family members standing in his way, all played by the immensely versatile Ray D’Ambrosio. He does this while juggling the affections of two very different women, the middle-class “Sibella Hallward” (played by Michelle Vera) and aristocratic “Phoebe D’Ysquith” (played by Lucy Nino). Other parts are played by Jenn Oliphant, Verose Deslonde, Stacia Stuart, Shawna Gonzales, Leslie Oesteruch, Michael Grimm, John Brewer, and Logan Jenkins.

Photo by Elizabeth Mandel

The SVCT production benefits from pitch-perfect casting, with each actor fully embodying their roles. The lead performers deliver strong, often operatic vocals that do justice to the clever lyrics and catchy melodies. The entire ensemble brings energy and commitment to their parts, making even the smallest characters memorable.

Bender’s direction keeps the action moving at a brisk, engaging pace, navigating the show’s dark humor and complex plot with a sure hand. Her choreography is lively and inventive, making full use of the stage and the actors’ abilities.

The production values are equally impressive, with detailed sets by Jenn Oliphant and Shachar Shem-Tov, gorgeous period costumes by Lorraine Bell, and effective lighting by Jenn Oliphant. Music Director Ron Bowman leads a tight 11-piece orchestra that perfectly captures the show’s varied musical styles.

While the first act is a bit long, the witty dialogue, tuneful songs, and surprising plot twists keep the audience engaged throughout. The second act is a non-stop rollercoaster of revelations and reversals leading to a satisfying, if slightly macabre, conclusion.

If there are any awards offered for this production, one should be given to  whoever was in charge of casting. Every role was filled with perfection. The leads’ voices showcased superb opera-trained quality. The entire cast gave full honesty and energy to their parts and seemed to be having the time of their lives. SVCT is fortunate to have such an amazing treasure trove of talent. And they know how to use it! Kudos also to the backstage crew who provided multiple scene changes that went smoothly and set pieces slid in place without a hitch.

With music by Steven Lutvak, lyrics by Lutvak and Robert L. Freedman, and a book by Freedman, “Gentleman’s Guide” premiered on the Great White Way at the Walter Kerr Theatre on Nov.  17, 2013. It enjoyed a successful run until Jan. 17, 2016. At the 68th Annual Tony Awards, the Broadway production garnered an impressive four Tony Awards, the most prestigious being the coveted Best Musical prize.

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is a hugely entertaining, wonderfully performed production that showcases the depth of talent in our local theater community. It’s a must-see for anyone who appreciates engaging musical theater, black comedy, or just a thoroughly enjoyable night out. Catch it before Monty Navarro eliminates your chance!

Camille Bounds is the theater arts editor for Morgan Hill Life and Gilroy Life.