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Curtain Rises: A ‘Guide’ to musical comedy at Pa. Playhouse

A Tony Award-winning musical comedy about murder is the perfect show for the spooky month of October, says the show’s director Rody Gilkeson.

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” runs Oct. 8 - 24 at The Pennsylvania Playhouse, Bethlehem.

“This is a very funny show and all the murders that take place are of a silly nature,” says Gilkeson of the show that won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 2014.

The production was originally scheduled at The Playhouse for fall 2020, but was postponed because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shutdown.

Gilkeson is thrilled to finally be directing the show.

“I saw it three times on Broadway and fell in love with it,” says Gilkeson, Pennsylvania Playhouse board of directors president.

The story is based on the 1907 novel, “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal,” by Roy Horniman.

In the plot, Monty Navarro is a young man who is down on his luck when he learns from the mysterious Miss Shingle that he is descended from an aristocratic family. She tells him that his late mother had been disowned by the family for eloping with a Spanish musician.

Monty discovers that he is eighth in line in the D’Ysquith family to be High Earl of Highhurst Castle. However, since Monty thinks that his chances of outliving the other heirs are slight, he decides to take revenge, kill off his relatives and move himself up on the succession list.

One of the highlights of the show is a scene-stealing role for one actor who plays nine of the doomed heirs who meet their ends in the most creative and humorous ways.

Christopher D’Imperio plays the entire D’Ysquith family, including two women, a gay man, an elderly man, a bodybuilder and a drunken pastor.

“It’s a tour de force,” Gilkeson says. “Chris is constantly changing costumes. He’s doing an amazing job.”

Gilkeson says that Jefferson Mays, the actor who played the role on Broadway, lost weight during the run because the role is so demanding.

Patrick Mertz plays Monty. Mertz’s real-life wife, Kimberly Mertz, plays one of Monty’s love interests, Sibella Hallward.

Elizabeth Marsh-Gilkeson, who is Rody Gilkeson’s real-life wife, plays Monty’s other love interest, Phoebe D’Ysquith.

“I’m amazed at the talent in this cast,” Gilkeson says. “This will be a great show.”

The musical has a book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman, with music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak.

Gilkeson says the production is The Playhouse’s third in-person show since “Talley’s Folly” in April.

He says the two-person show, “Talley’s Folly,” drew a small audience and “Twelve Angry Jurors” in June drew a slightly larger audience.

Gilkeson is hoping the black comedy, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” will attract even more theater-goers.

“The performers are all vaccinated, so the performers won’t be masked,” he says.

The playhouse is asking audience members who are not fully-vaccinated to wear a face mask for the duration of the show.

The production features period costumes and a set by Brett Oliveira that recreates an early 1900s-era British Music Hall, complete with a proscenium stage.

The cast includes Geri Kery as Miss Shingle, along with Alyssa Steiner, Cindy Cicconi-Ernst, Evan Heger, Brian Houp, Deb Jacoby, Sophia Johnson- Grimes, Nick Madden, Andrew Maldonado, Matt Redline, Janelle Taylor, Ted Williams and Deven Windisch.

Performances: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 8, 9, 15, 16 and 22, 23; and 3 p.m. Oct. 10, 17 and 24.

Tickets: www.paplayhouse.org, 610-865-6665

“Curtain Rises” is a column about the theater, stage shows, the actors in them and the directors and artists who make them happen. To request coverage, email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, pwillistein@tnonline.com

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY PENNSYLVANIA PLAYHOUSE Patrick Mertz (Monty), Kimberly Mertz (Sibella Hallward), “A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder,” weekends Oct. 8-24, Pennsylvania Playhouse, Bethlehem.