By Victoria Weisfeld

Prepare to be delighted with the opener of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s 2024 season—the hilarious musical comedy, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, directed by Brian B. Crowe. Written by Robert L. Freedman (book and lyrics) and Steven Lutvak (music and lyrics), the production opened May 18 and runs through June 9. The Guide is based on a 1907 novel by Roy Horniman and inspired the 1949 British film Kind Hearts and Coronets. The musical version won the 2014 Tony for Best Musical.

Recently orphaned Montague Navarro (played by Miles Jacoby) has limited financial prospects, none of them likely to secure a future with his glamorous beloved, Sibella (Claire Leyden). When his late mother’s friend, Miss Shingle (Lauren Cohn), makes the astonishing revelation that he’s actually eighth in line to inherit the earldom of the wealthy D’Ysquith family, Monty’s mental wheels start to turn murderously.

The family members who stand in his way are comically unsympathetic (one number, sung by Lord D’Ysquith, is “I Don’t Understand the Poor”). These odious men and women are all played to high comic effect by Christopher Sutton, who has some of the fastest costume changes in show business. Monty’s murderous means are cleverly opportunistic: Thin ice at a winter resort was one of my favorites. Interactions between Monty and his unsuspecting family members are priceless, except when he starts to fall for his cousin Phoebe (Eryn LeCroy). Thankfully, she’s not in the line of succession, so safe.

More than 20 musical numbers keep the story clicking right along. The music is upbeat, and the lyrics are entertaining. (In “Why Are All the D’Ysquiths Dying?” the mourners raise a very pertinent question and end with “and most of all, I’m sick of wearing black.”)

The cast also includes a half-dozen “utility players” who take on various assignments—servants, mourners, ancestral portraits, clerks, wedding guests, and so on: Javier Alfonso Castellanos, Bobby Cook Gallagher, Francesca Mehrotra, James Conrad Smith, Kayla Ryan Walsh, and Kate Zaffrann. They make the most of every one of their numerous roles, and their musicality and comic timing are perfect.

The framing device for the story is that Monty is in jail, waiting for the verdict in his murder trial, and writing a truthful memoir. It isn’t at all clear how he can escape a guilty verdict, having murdered at least half a dozen of his cousins. Ironically, his trial is for a murder he didn’t commit.

A five-member orchestra, led by Doug Oberhamer (music director), provides just enough musical support. It’s there, certainly, but doesn’t overpower the singing. The audience loved this production, and I loved it too!

Production credits to Dick Block (clever, flexible scenic design), Matt J. Weisgable (lighting), Jeffrey Marc Alkins (choreography), Steven Beckel (sound), Austin Blake Conlee (beautiful costumes!), Julie Foh (dialect consultant), and Doug West (fight director).

STNJ productions are hosted at Drew University in Madison, N.J. (easily reachable from NYC by train). For tickets, call the box office at 973-408-5600 or visit the Box Office online.