a gentlemans guide to love and murder

Poems To Read Based on Your Favorite Musical

We’re winding down Poetry Month with recommendations specially tailored for you based on your favorite musical. You’re welcome.



  • Every song in Matilda is a wordsmith’s dream, full of puns and linguistic play. ee cummings is one of the most playful poets out there, working with format, syntax, and suggestion to create provocative and delightful pieces. Here’s Tom Hiddleston reading “May I Feel Said He.”
  • Harryette Mullen is another master wordsmith who explores the resonances and connotations of words in pop culture and politics. See “Elliptical” from her appropriately named book, “Sleeping with the Dictionary.”


Passing Strange

  • James Baldwin would definitely identify with the young protagonist’s quest to live in a country that reflects his principles, and his struggle to stay true to himself. Baldwin explores the intersections of race, religion, and sexuality in his poems, essays, and novels. Check out “The giver”
  • Claude McKay is a prominent Harlem Renaissance writer whose work exposed the contradictions of the American Dream. Check out “America,” and basically everything else he’s written.
  • Rumi’s poetry is all about self-healing and finding authenticity in the noise of consciousness. See these selections.
  • Also, make sure to check out Muriel Rukeyser’s “Orgy” “…that’s right all three of them”




  • Part of Hamilton’s genius is its blend of history and popular music, making the oft-treated history of American independence feel fresh, accessible, and even subversive. But Lin-Manuel’s not the first wordsmith to put politics and cultural sounds together. See poet/activist Amiri Baraka and Yusek Komunyakaa, both fascinating intellectuals concerned with race, American politics, and its effects on daily life.
  • Puerto Rican writer Martin Espada was a tenant lawyer working with largely immigrant communities. His poetry draws on themes of law and activism, historical Latin American rebellion, and what it means to exists on the fringes of society.
  • Make the Schyuler sisters proud with feminist poetry from Dominican author Julia Alvarez and Puerto Rican Julia de Burgos.


  • On the precipice of marriage and adulthood? Gregory Corso’s “Marriage” probably won’t leave you feeling any wiser, but you’ll definitely get a laugh.

Avenue Q

  • Funny, accessible, sprinkled with deep musings on life? Billy Collins makes it happen.

Next to Normal

  • The Goodman family should really sit down together and read some Sylvia Plath, not only because of Plath’s own struggle with mental illness, but because so much of her writing deals with family problems and finding fortitude in ourselves.
  • Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” is one of my personal favorites, a superbly structured meditation on loss that holds no emotional punches.
  • I hear a lot of Muriel Rukeyser’s “Book of the Dead”  in many of Kitt’s and Yorkey’s lyrics, particularly in “I Miss the Mountains”


Sunday in the Park With George

  • Seurat abandoned realism for his signature style of pointillism, preceding even more artistic experimentation in the early 20th century. Check out T.S. Eliot’s “The LoveSong of J Alfred Prufrock,” which is also rife with themes of masculinity, failed relationships, and artistry.
  • Painting complex images with simple dots is similar to what Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, and Williams Carlos Williams do with perception in their condensed, haiku-like forms.

Sweeney Todd and/or A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

  • A penchant for the dark side, have you? Satisfy your taste for morbidity with Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Conqueror Worm
  • Edgar Lee Masters wrote a collection of prose/poems called The Spoon River Anthology. Each poem represents one person in the local cemetery. Cheery stuff.
  • Edwin Arlington Robinson had a similar approach to his poems “Richard Cory” and “Miniver Cheevy,” which whimsically recounts two men’s fateful demise.
  • For a more hopeful look at death, read William Cullen Bryant (what’s with the three-namers in this century?). His “Thanatopsis” got me through many a funeral.

Into the Woods

  • Sondheim’s not the first to love a good, dark, modern take on a classic fantasy. Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shallott” is his most well-known, though I tend to go for “Ulysses” more often.
  • More takes on the Ulysses myth: Dorothy Parker’s “Penelope” and Margaret Atwood’s “Siren Song.” Both entrancingly subversive from a woman’s POV.
  • Christabel” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is a fantastic fairy tale poem about a young princess who competes for her father’s affection with a young, wild forest woman. It’s full of sexual (queer?) innuendo and lots of speculation.


  • “La Vie Boheme” is definitely inspired by Walt Whitman’s ode to Americana “Leaves of Grass,” which in turn inspired “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg.
  • Sonia Sanchez’s “Wounded in the House of a Friend” plays out a spat between two lovers. It’s passionate, often hilarious, like watching your favorite soap.
  • Claudia Rankine is writing extraordinary poetry defining the 21st century. First with a multimedia reflection on post-9/11 America “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely,” and recently with the much-lauded “Citizen,” a provocative book on race.

This list could go on indefinitely. Feel free to comment with more suggestions!





A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder at the Walter Kerr Theater

What is that, you say? A new Broadway musical that is not based on a recent movie or book? And it doesn’t star a big Hollywood name to lure the holiday tourists? Yea, right.

Well, my brothers and sisters in the theatre god, I’m feeling all sorts of evangelical about this. It’s true! There is hope! There is salvation! And it’s name is Jefferson Mays A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, an honest-to-god original, clever, and exciting new musical.

Okay, maybe I’m coming off way too strong about this. Or not- there’s a chronic lack of original material in Broadway houses, and a growing number of screen-to-stage stuff that exists almost entirely due to the fact that money-makers want to make money (like my financial jargon there?). Original shows are seen as far riskier investments than rehashing something that already has a precedent for making money. Taglines from such musicals vary from “Remember that movie you liked? Pay almost $100 to see it again, LIVE!” to “Remember that concert you went to thirty years ago? Pay almost $100 to see it again, except with a loose plot and boring characters!” That’s not to say, of course, that musical adapted from a film or music group is terrible. Some are even great. But look at last year’s TONY nominees for Best Original Musical- Kinky Boots, Matilda, A Christmas Story, and Bring It On. ALL OF THEM are adapted from films. And that’s original musicals. We’re leaving hardly room room for new stories or new ideas and we’re pushing our notions of a show’s bankability away from how innovative and exciting something feels towards how comfortable and familiar it is.

Now, Gentleman’s Guide doesn’t threaten to break the status quo or usher in a new age of theatre, but it is a great reminder of how a successful musical can be made from sheer creativity and inventive storytelling.

(l-r) Joanna Glushak, Lauren Worsham, Bryce Pinkham, Lisa O’Hare, and Jefferson Mays

When we are first introduced to Monty Navarro (Bryce Pinkham), he is a 19th century aristocrat in prison awaiting his sentence for crimes we do not yet know. Flash back a few years and we find Monty grieving his mother’s death and struggling to make ends meet. When a mysterious acquaintance of his mother reveals that his mother was actually a disowned member of the extraordinarily wealthy D’Ysquith family, he decides to make a claim on his proper inheritance. However, the D’Ysquith refuse to acknowledge his claim, propelling Monty on the path to murdering all the D’Ysquith heirs and climbing up the ladder of earldom by himself.

Each of the murders are pretty hilarious and outlandish. And each of the D-Ysquith heirs is played by versatile actor extraordinaire, Jefferson Mays. Even though each character Mays plays is only onstage for a few minutes, they’re all incredibly memorable and enjoyable. However, one of the show’s biggest achievements is that May’s character acting does not outshine the rest of the cast. Sometimes when a show like this has an outstanding character actor, it rests its success on the draw of that single aspect of the show and the rest of the plot/acting suffers (Think Johnny Depp and Pirates). But Bryce Pinkham makes a wonderful straight-man  to Mays’s crazy, and his character’s yearnings are explored with all the appropriate nuances and motivations. As Monty Navarro’s egotistical love interest, Lisa O’Hare also shines with every flounce and trill.

The book and lyrics, by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, are fine examples of how character and comedy can be cleverly weaved in a musical. They handle themes of class, love, and ambition with graceful charm and pointed comedy.The set design by Alexander Dodge is also outstanding, featuring the best use of projected visuals I’ve seen, probably ever.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus/


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