Chagrin Valley Little Theatre’s ‘A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder” slays

In the picturesque town of Chagrin Falls, Ohio the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre has been putting on theatrical works for 94 small feat at that. Billing themselves as “Little Theater, Big Experience” this aptly describes their purpose.

Currently the theater is producing Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak’s “A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder” and believe me this is no small undertaking. Being as it is a musical comedy it requires great singing voices, an accomplished orchestra, superb acting and most important comedic timing. Happily the show is hugely successful in all areas. The show is a comedic delight.

It begins with a chorus of mourners happily warning those in the audience with a weak constitution to flee. We then find our hero, low born Montague, Monty for short (Danny Simpson) who has by hook and crook become the ninth Earl of Highhurst. He is trapped in his jail cell awaiting sentencing having been accused of murder of the eighth Earl of Highhurst. To while away the time he writes a journal detailing all of his various crimes up to that point.

After the death of his mother he learns that she was actually a disowned D’Ysquith making Monty eighth in line to become the ninth Earl of Highhurst Castle. From this knowledge a plot is formed in his mind to assist in the “doing away” of his rival relations without getting caught of course.

As he works through his quest he is dumped by his fiance Sibella Hallward (Allison Lehr)who marries rich and takes him on as a lover. As this is unfolding he falls in love with and becomes engaged to his cousin Phoebe D’Ysquith (Leah Saltzer).

One by one all of his unnotable noble relations fall victim to various deaths sometimes with the aid of Monty and sometimes without. It is when the last Earl falls over dead from an apparent heart attack but is later discovered to have been poisoned that suspicions land him in the court docket and jail cell.

The secret to the success of this show is of course in the acting and singing. It is absolutely superb. Framed paintings come to life to sing, Allison Lehr, Danny Simpson (who resembles a young Dan Aykroyd) and Leah Saltzer are all in fine voice along with Brian Diehl who amazingly plays a total of nine distinctive roles in various costuming and accents. He is the merry-go-round that is at the center of this spinning farce of fun. Special note should also be made for the ensemble made up of Rosie Bresson, Jayson Gage, Mort Goldman, Paul G. Josell, Lindsay Macleod and Casey Venema who also took on a variety of other parts. They were superb as well.

One totally redeeming quality of the cast is that no one attempts to fake a British accent. As I have noted many times, American actors simply cannot pull it off. In this production everyone speaks in a normal (albeit American) accent that is pleasing to the ear and easy to understand. Thank You!

One inadvertent running gag is the various scenes projected on the backdrop that is constantly in a state of flex and flux adding to the comic feel. The moving walls add to the farcical merriment of the show. Every single square inch of the stage as well as the area in front of the curtain is utilized to its fullest. Kudos goes out to Production Design and Technical Director Tom West for his ingenious stage design as well as the flawless scene changes. The various stage sets are perfectly suited for the time period and scenes. The sound design is well balanced with the mic’d actors being clearly heard and the orchestra adding to rather than overpowering the fine singing. As for the seven piece orchestra they are more than up to the challenge and consist of D. Keith Stiver (Conductor/Keyboard), Kim Coxe (Oboe/ English Horn), Alice Mantley (Oboe/English Horn), Denice Yancey (Violin), Amy Roth (Viola), Michelle Swiniarksi ( Trumpet) and Jonathan “Skip” Edwards (Bass).

The unsung hero of the production has to be Costume Designer Mayim Hamblem whose collection of period clothing is astounding. With dresses and suits right out of Downton Abby collection including an array of funeral garb it truly added to the enjoyment of the play. One wonders where all the matching sets of antique looking sunglasses and black umbrellas were found for the funeral scene. Choreographer Marc C. Howard (who also Directs) keeps the comedic wheels turning quickly as he creates wonderful physical comedy through dance and stage action.

The only minor complaint one heard in passing was the late start of the production (8:00 p.m.) combined with the two and a half hours of show and intermission that released the audience onto the streets at 10:30 p.m. with not a lot of choices for food and such.

Chagrin Valley Little Theatre has a reputation for producing grand and extravagant shows in its 262 seat theater and “A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder” is an excellent example of this art. The show is truly funny, has amazing singing, great acting and wonderful live music. If you have not witnessed their brand of theater it is time that you should with this show. There are only three more shows left so don’t dawdle.

The Chagrin Valley Little Theatre’s production of “A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder” will be on stage Friday, April 8th (8:00 p.m.), Saturday, April 9th (8:00 p.m.) and Sunday, April 10th (2:00 p.m.). For more information and tickets go to or call (440) 247-8955.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.