How far would you go to get what you want?
This ethical question is central to much of pop culture and, in turn, much of our daily lives. Would you tell a white lie to get ahead at work? Completely transform your character to impress a crush? Would you kill several relatives to acquire a huge fortune?
“I could think about how to spend the money,” says Donna Fletcher, co-founder of Winnipeg theater company Dry Cold Productions. “But I don’t think I would consider firing people.”
This is where she and Monty Navarro differ.
Navarro is the protagonist at the heart of the current Dry Cold show, A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder, a Tony-winning musical set in England just after the turn of the 20th century, the Victorian era in the rearview mirror but very much at the forefront of class politics.
Men as aimless and penniless as Navarro, played by Winnipeg’s Justin Stadnyk, often need a kick in the pants looking for direction or money, and in gentlementhis kick is courtesy of two women.
One is a romantic interest, an upper rump named Sibella (played by local Sarah Luby), who wants to reach an even higher tax bracket. The other is a little old lady named Miss Shingle (Tracy Penner), who brings Monty shocking news: his mother was a member of the wealthy D’Ysquith family, banished for defying their snobbery.
Dollar signs and hearts replace Navarro’s pupils: he is eighth in line to become the Earl of Highhurst. To move forward, he may have to cut.
For a murder show, says Fletcher Guide is anything but filthy. A loose adaptation of Roy Horniman’s 1907 novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal, which in turn inspired Good hearts and crowns, the show is an assortment of musical styles and comedic approaches: there’s sharp satire, murder mystery, slapstick, gallows humor and all-out smarts. “That’s damn funny,” Fletcher says. An interesting term – devilishly funny.
The show satirizes the mores of elite British society, which are of course found all over the world, and the wealthy class’s obsession with maintaining a separation from those who don’t fit their expensive bill – a division bordering on caste, particularly in the period depicted. . It also poses the question of social mobility, both upward and downward, what is to be gained and what is lost in a two-way movement.
There are shades of Mr. Bean, Monty Python, Sondheim and Gilbert & Sullivan daubed throughout the 24-song show, with themes reminiscent of everything from SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION at Brewster’s Millions at Stock exchanges at Downtown Abboty. Rich and poor is a story as old as money.
Written by Robert L. Freedman with music by Steven Lutvak, the Broadway production received widespread acclaim, including four Tonys, in 2013. When the rights became available, Fletcher said it was an obvious fit for Dry Cold, who put on his first show since before the pandemic began needed a joyous jolt of musical joy.
The cast and crew are inspired by director Erin McGrath: they’re all local talent.
Stadnyk and Luby, along with Sydney Clarke as Monty’s other love, Phoebe, form a love triangle. Kevin Klassen, who will play the entire D’Ysquith family, offers a deadly octagon.
“There are eight characters in the series,” says Fletcher: the current earl, the next two, a dismal actress, Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith, a major, a lord who served in the Boer War and a reverend.
Key to the show is Monty, who Fletcher says remains lovable even as he plots and carries out deadly sins. “He goes further than any of us would go,” she says.
Nothing is on the table.