Googie Uterhardt (left) and Haden Rider co-star in City Springs Theatre’s musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” continuing through Sunday at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center. CONTRIBUTED BY BEN ROSE
Photo: Ben Rose
Photo: Ben Rose

City Springs stages a giddy musical

UPDATE: City Springs has canceled the remaining performances of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” The move comes, states the company’s website, “Due to concerns regarding COVID-19 and the health and safety of our artists and patrons.”

“With all due respect to the versatile Haden Rider, the show’s actual leading man, there are a number of killer performances in the City Springs Theatre musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” — nine, to be exact, and all of them ingeniously delivered by the same actor: Googie Uterhardt, long recognized as one of Atlanta’s best comedic talents.

Rider (whose previous local credits include title roles ranging from “Jesus Christ Superstar” to “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”) plays Monty Navarro, a lowly young man in Victorian-era England, who discovers that his recently deceased mother was disowned by her aristocratic family after she eloped with his late father, a Castilian immigrant and musician.

From a prison cell (and later in prerecorded narration), Monty recounts a quirky and dastardly tale of revenge and retribution, about setting out to reclaim his inheritance from the D’Ysquith clan and assume his rightful place as the Earl of Highhurst. All that stands in his way are the eight other members ahead of him in the line of succession.

Which is where Uterhardt repeatedly enters — and fatefully exits again, under increasingly bizarre circumstances. It’s a truly career-defining showcase for the actor, who brings an alarming agility to the assignment, not only in terms of his rapid-fire costume changes, but also with regard to delineating a vast array of character transformations.

No sooner has his feeble-minded, buck-toothed country vicar fallen to his death from a bell tower than he’s back in a flash as a blustery, muscle-bound military officer who’s decapitated in a bench-pressing mishap. Or a possibly gay beekeeper stung to death in a swarm of them. Or an incompetent actress whose “Hedda Gabler” ends with a literally deadly bang. Or a philanthropic suffragette who skirts disaster on several globe-trotting expeditions.

In artistic director Brandt Blocker’s suitably fashionable staging for City Springs, the nifty projections (designed by Aaron Rhyne) have been imported from the Tony-winning Broadway production, along with the fabulous costumes (by Linda Cho) and the stately scenery (by Alexander Dodge).

The musical is essentially based on the classic 1949 British film “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” which co-starred the peerless Alec Guinness as the D’Ysquith family, with Dennis Price in the comparatively thankless role of Monty. Presumably due to a copyright infringement lawsuit that was ultimately dismissed, however, Robert L. Freedman’s adapted script for “A Gentleman’s Guide” only credits a 1909 novel by Roy Horniman as its source material.

One of the more disappointing differences between the movie and stage versions involves Monty’s two love interests in the story. On-screen, Joan Greenwood played the conniving vixen Sibella, and Valerie Hobson was the prim and proper Phoebe. Here, unfortunately, both of the parts have been reimagined in the same scatterbrained mold, although Leigh Ellen Jones and Katherine McLaughlin, respectively, acquit themselves adequately enough.

The score features some 20 mostly marginal songs (music by Steven Lutvak, lyrics by Lutvak and Freedman) — nevertheless performed with gusto by Blocker’s ensemble of singers and City Springs’ 12-member orchestra (under the music direction of Chris Brent Davis). In a few of the faster paced numbers, a lot of the pithy lyrics are occasionally hard to decipher.

Be that as it may, whatever its limitations, as a vehicle for the singular gifts of an actor like Uterhardt, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is a sight (or nine) to behold.

THEATER REVIEW

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”

8 p.m. Today-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. $30-$82. Byers Theatre (at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center), 1 Galambos Way, Sandy Springs. 770-206-2022. cityspringstheatre.com.

Bottom line: Guided by Googie Uterhardt’s delightfully dead-on star turn(s).

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