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Theater Review: ‘Guide’ a rollicking good time at Pa. Playhouse

After you think of all the different ways a person can die, go see “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” at the Pennsylvania Playhouse, Bethlehem, for few more tips and a rollicking good time.

And for a master class in simultaneously managing a gorgeous blonde and a beautiful brunette, you couldn’t do better than watch multi-talented Patrick Mertz (Monty Navarro) double-deal his charms.

He expresses his social mobility aspirations in song: “You’ve only a claim to a noble old name ...” from “Foolish to Think” as he makes his murderous way from lower-class clerk to lord of the castle.

Mertz showcases his musical chops in the ode to his true love in “Sibella”: “And there’s that smile with a secret inside, And here are two eyes that are bright, With a mischievous light ...”

Rody Gilkeson, president, board of directors, Pennsylvania Playhouse, directs a tour-de-force that brings great voices, wonderful costumes, dramatic lighting and a terrific cast together on stage in a fast-moving murder-mystery musical.

The musical, with book and lyrics by Robert L Freedman and music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak and based on a novel by Roy Horniman continues weekends through Oct. 24 at Pennsylvania Playhouse.

Christopher D’Imperio (The D’Ysquith Family, in multiple roles) is superlative as he ranges from haughty upper-class English gentleman (Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith), singing “Where’s the dignity?” from “I Don’t Understand the Poor” to portraying a homosexual gentleman farmer and pub patron (Henry D’Ysquith) who, with Monty Navarro, duets in “Better With a Man.”

D’Imperio as Major Lord Bartholomew D’Ysquith wearing a fantastic costume is a major high point of D’Imperio’s boffo performance. But for laughs and great acting ability, it is his portrayal of Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith that propels him to the front in this production.

Kimberly Mertz (Sibella Hallward) is brilliant and beautiful as she and Patrick Mertz make bright, romantic, sparkly sparks in several scenes.

Whether in stunning haute couture or in modest dishabille, Mertz is a terrific singer (“I Don’t Know What I’d Do Without You,” “The Last One You’d Expect” and “Poor Monty”).

Elizabeth Marsh-Gilkeson (Phoebe D’Ysquith) as a beautiful third angle of a Sibella-Monty-Phoebe love triangle, is delightful, notably in “Inside Out” with Patrick Mertz (Monty) and Kimberly Mertz (Sibella) in “That Horrible Woman.”

Deb Jacoby (Tour Guide) epitomizes the sergeant-major like qualities that all tour guides need while guiding rubes through cultural relics handed down by their rich and powerful betters.

Alyssa Steiner (Miss Evangeline Barley) is wonderfully entertaining as the put-upon mistress.

Geri Kery (Miss Shingle) is highly entertaining as the mysterious woman who sets Monty Navarro on his quest leading from pauper to prince (or, at least, lord).

Sophia Johnson-Grimes (Lady Eugenia D’Ysquith) is superb as she hosts dinner at her and Lord Adalbert’s Highhurst castle and as part of the talented Ensemble.

Nick Madden (Tom Copley and Ensemble) and Brian Houp (Magistrate and Ensemble) are convincing in straight-laced supporting roles.

The ensemble (Evan Heger, Cindy Cicconi-Ernst, Andrew Maldonado, Matt Redline, Janelle Taylor and Deven Windisch) is a musically-talented group of great actors, especially evident in a “dance-like-an-Egyptian” scene and a graveyard scene.

This play is a first-class production and special mention has to go to Costume Designer Todd Burkel and Assistant Costume Designer Elizabeth Marsh-Gilkeson, who have their hands full just keeping count of the characters. Their costumes are notable for quality, fidelity to the turn-of-the-20th-century styles from commoner class through the well-heeled and in the case of Sibella Hallward’s gowns, just head-turning beautiful.

Music Director Nancy Shumaker’s artistry, Megan Kohler Viscomi’s choreography and Brett Oliveira’s set and lighting design combine to give this production of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” a play worth going to see.

Tickets: www.paplayhouse.org; 610-865-6665

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY CHRIS FIEGEL From left, Kimberly Mertz (Sibella Hallward), Patrick Mertz (Monty Navarro), “A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder,” weekends through Oct. 24, Pennsylvania Playhouse, Bethlehem.