Walter Kerr Theatre, New York City
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
“Bloodlust hasn’t sung so sweetly, or provided so much theatrical fun, since Sweeney Todd first wielded his razor,” said Charles Isherwood in The New York Times. This “frolicsome” show about an Edwardian gentleman who gleefully slaughters his way up the English social ladder revives “what sometimes seems a lost art form: musicals that match streams of memorable melody with fizzily witty turns of phrase.” Book writer Robert L. Freedman has taken the plot of a satirical 1907 novel and its 1949 film adaptation, Kind Hearts and Coronets, and turned the dial up to total farce. So even though Monty Navarro (Bryce Pinkham) develops a knack for cleverly bumping off higher-placed relatives after discovering he’s eighth in line for a lordship, he remains so affable he’s practically cuddly.
But even Navarro doesn’t have the charisma to match his intended victims’, said Rex Reed in The New York Observer. All eight are portrayed by Tony-winning actor Jefferson Mays in a “hilarious succession of wigs, accents, and outrageous costumes.” First, he’s a bucktoothed clergyman who suffers a suspicious fall. Later, he’s a philanthropic dowager persuaded to travel to Africa and live among a tribe of cannibals. At every step, Mays’s “inspired lunacy” so energizes the proceedings that it’s a shame most of his characters have been dispatched by the beginning of the second act. “The rest of the show, about how Monty gets trapped in his own dastardly plot, is frankly anticlimactic.”
Even so, the energy never drops enough to “severely crimp the enjoyment,” said David Rooney in The Hollywood Reporter. A surprise ending remains in the offing, and hilarious songs keep pouring forth from a score by Freedman and Steven Lutvak that tickles the senses as if it were a mashup of Gilbert and Sullivan, Noël Coward, and Lerner and Loewe. “I Don’t Understand the Poor” becomes a “wicked anthem for the 1 percent,” while “Better With a Man” takes My Fair Lady–style patter “to its gayest extreme.” Credit the show’s freshness to the presence of so many newcomers, including Freedman, Lutvak, and director Darko Tresnjak, among its creative team. In an “increasingly risk-averse” landscape dominated by big names and bland pop music, “this bright little jewel is a legitimate treat.”
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.