A Bed And A Chair, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder and Macbeth

Sondheim & Marsalis surprises, Gentleman’s Guide dies metaphorically, and Ethan Hawke’s Macbeth dies quite literally.

A Bed And A Chair   (3 ½ stars)
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder   (4 stars)
Macbeth   (1 star)

Could Stephen Sondheim’s art and Wynton Marsalis’ artistry get in a room together and not kill each other?  Surprisingly, the answer in A Bed And A Chair: A New York Love Story (Nov 13-17 at City Center) was a resounding ‘yes’.  From time to time you wondered ‘what does it mean’ and ‘where is it going.’  But, ultimately, the music lovers in us didn’t care.  The glorious arrangements were a fifth star of the show, along with the ageless Bernadette Peters, handsome Norm Lewis, up-and-coming jazz phenomenon Cyrille Aimee, and the boyishly hunky Jeremy Jordan. The 14-piece ‘Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis’ played magnificently (sometimes too loudly, covered the singers) and four wonderful dancers also joined the stars.  Including effective projections that highlighted New York City, A Bed And A Chair was arty, unnecessary and I kind of loved it.

Based on the 1949 black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets that starred Alec Guinnes (for which they couldn’t obtain the rights) and Roy Horniman’s original, 1907 book, Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal (for which they could), we now have its new musical version,  A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.  It’s great fun to watch Monty Navarro, a charming Bryce Pinkham, murder his way through eight relatives, all played by the brilliantly over-the top Jefferson Mays, in order to better his place in the line of succession to become the next Earl of Highhurst.  The sprightly score, with tuneful music by Steven Lutvak, a devilish book by Robert L. Freedman, and intricately clever lyrics by both Lutvak and Freedman, give A Gentleman’s Guide… the flavor of a whimsical, British trifle – but getting there is everything in this delightful, new musical that also spotlights the talents of Lisa O’Hare and Lauren Worsham, two gifted singers and comediennes, both vying for the affections of the rakish Monty.  Who will he choose?  Will he be caught?  Lucky for you, the answers are just a ticket away.  In a season bereft of new musical entries, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder is poised to be a hit!

Blessed with so much extraordinary Shakespeare this season (the Shakespeare’s Globe’s Twelfth Night and Richard III, TFANA’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, etc.) being forced to endure Jack O’Brien’s stupefying Macbeth starring a ludicrously cast Ethan Hawke seems like penitence, indeed.  You need to know only one thing about this woefully misguided production: don’t go!  There’s simply too much else to see – or wait for Kenneth Branagh’s Macbeth next summer.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder plays at the Walter Kerr (219 W 48th St, AGentlemansGuideBroadway.com).  Macbeth plays through January 12 at the Vivian Beaumont (150 West 65th St, LCT.org).