It is murder most foul that will make you howl.
There is no doubt of that with the Broadway touring production of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” playing Fort Lauderdale through Jan. 21. The musical comedy is a hoot, with reams of clever wordplay in its lyrics, all jauntily delivered in patter songs. “Serial Killer — the Musical!” might be a more accurate title, but it would totally miss the farcical tone and “veddy propah” Edwardian-era humor. Think of “My Fair Lady” mashed up with “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” and you’ll just about have it.
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” may be the best musical you’ve never heard of despite winning four Tony Awards in 2014, including one for best musical. The touring production does seem dwarfed by the expansive space of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, even with much of the action taking place on a smaller Victorian stage nestled neatly on the real stage. Many of the verbal somersaults and flips won’t land past the orchestra-level seats.
Based on the 1949 British film “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” which starred Alec Guinness and was in turn inspired by the obscure 1907 novel “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal” by Roy Horniman, the stage musical set in 1909 follows the misadventures of Monty Navarro (Blake Price), a penniless Londoner hopelessly in love with socially ambitious Sibella Hallward (Colleen McLaughlin). Monty sees a chance to up his position when he finds out that his just deceased mother was cruelly spurned and disinherited by her wealthy, title-holding family, the D’Ysquiths (pronouced, “DIE-s-quith”). All that needs to happen is for eight rather nasty scions to meet an unfortunate end so that Monty can become an earl. Those eight descendants are played with diabolical relish by James Taylor Odom.
Monty begins sawing off branches of the family tree — with Wiley Coyote-like violence — on his ruthless climb to the top of the peerage canopy, each hilarious homicide getting its own operetta-esque song. And that, aside from being a little lost in the cavernous Broward Center, is the other problem with “Gentleman’s Guide,” this light-as-a-soufflé show feels slightly padded and mired down with unnecessary songs that stretch the running time to two hours, with a 20-minute intermission.
“Gentleman’s Guide” doesn’t really have any pin-you-to-the-back-of-your-seat production numbers. Instead, this quintessentially English, seaside-music-hall staging relies on little theatrical tricks that pack a punch, such as paintings coming to life, video projections right out of a Hitchcock film and dancing suits of armor. Again, the spectacle quotient seems Broadway-lite in the Broward Center, but the plush set, luxurious music, tight choreography and hard-working cast are killing it.
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” runs through Jan. 21 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, with 2 p.m. matinee Wednesdays and Saturdays and 1 p.m. Sundays (additional performances 6:30 p.m. Jan. 14 and 2 p.m. Jan. 17). Tickets cost $35.25-$105.25 ($165.25 for club-level seats). To order, call 954-462-0222 or go to BrowardCenter.org.