Phoebe vs. Sibella: Investigating the Love Triangle of Gentleman's Guide
Guys, I adore A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder but it KILLS me that the love triangle is never actually resolved. In the final scene, Monty is released from prison (spoiler alert!) and into the waiting arms of both Sibella and Phoebe. Monty considers his feelings for each, the ensemble sings a rousing finale, and the show ends. But which woman did he choose??? Well until the sequel A Gentleman’s Guide: 2 Love 2 Murder is released, we aren’t going to have an answer. But what we can do is take a look at the score to see if it can give us a better sense of which heroine belongs with our charming (albeit sort of murder-y) hero. Let’s go.
Lisa O'Hare, Bryce Pinkham, and Lauren Worsham in A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
First of all, I think we need to consider the musical traditions upon which the Gentleman’s Guide score is built. This show owes a lot to the operettas of the late 19th/early 20th century – particularly the work of Gilbert and Sullivan. And Gilbert and Sullivan in turn were spoofing operatic musical customs. In a traditional opera or operetta there are typically two couples: you have your tenor and soprano romantic pairing and then you have your mezzo/bass comedic or possibly villainous couple. For a good example of this in the theatre world, consider Bernstein’s Candide in which we are given the soprano/tenor pairing of Cunegonde and Candide and the mezzo/baritone couple Paquette and Pangloss. Gentleman’s Guide sort of nods to this operatic tradition (there are after all four main roles – two men and two women) but then the show throws aside the traditional formula by tacking the mezzo (Sibella) onto the romantic soprano/tenor pair (Phoebe and Monty). Instead of two distinct couples, we have a love triangle. Tradition would tell us that Phoebe should be the winner. She is the soprano and rightfully belongs with our tenor protagonist. And in fact, Monty does marry Phoebe. But this is Gentleman’s Guide and things aren’t going to be that tidy. Let’s see if the score can help us figure out which woman truly belongs with Monty.
Sibella’s musical voice is first established in “I Don’t Know What I Do Without You.” This piece is in 3/4 time (a waltz) and it’s very playful. She uses these flippant little triplets to ornament her phrases. The accompaniment is pretty bare which gives it this light quality. And the orchestra finishes Sibella’s phrases with these cutesy little comments (listen to the little orchestral turns after “No no no, don’t squeeze” and “Monty you’re a tease” to get a feel for this).
Lisa O'Hara sings "I Don't Know What I'd Do Without You" from the Broadway Cast Album.
But these lighthearted passages are occasionally interrupted. Sibella slows down the tempo, the phrases become more legato, and strings replace the woodwinds in the accompaniment. This happens whenever Sibella makes an attempt to draw Monty in. (“Oh Monty, look, my shoe!” and “No one holds a conversation half as beautifully as you,” etc.) But then just at the moment when she knows she has him enthralled, she drops him again. The tempo picks up and we return to her more flippant musical style. So Sibella’s music is really a great representation of her character – light, playful, a little shallow, and with a proclivity for drawing the listener in only to drop him again when she gets bored.
“Foolish to Think” follows Sibella’s solo, so right away we’re given the opportunity to compare and contrast Sibella’s musical language with Monty’s. “I Don’t Know What I’d Do Without You” ended with these little orchestral ornamental phrases that established a short-long-long rhythm (short-long-long being my very technical way of describing these dotted-eighth-rest, sixteenth note, quarter note, quarter note rhythms). Sibella has established these short-long-longs and guess what! Monty’s number immediately begins with the same rhythmic idea. Like Sibella’s number, “Foolish to Think” is also a waltz and again the accompaniment is pretty sparse except for these little musical comments at the end of his phrases.
When Monty turns his attention away from Sibella and towards the D’Ysquiths (“On a mythical scale, the D’Ysquiths prevail...”), his musical language takes on a new quality. He changes the key and increases the tempo. Plus, the use of more strings in the accompaniment gives it a thicker orchestral texture. Monty continues to modulate from key to key as the tempo gains momentum, giving this section of the piece an intensity that was lacking before. Monty hasn’t fully forgotten Sibella (we still have our short-long-longs), but clearly she’s not featured as prominently in his thoughts at this moment.
Monty and Sibella have a lot in common, musically speaking, but what about Phoebe? Well, Phoebe’s solo number, “Inside Out,” is also in 3/4 time so our love triangle seems to have that in common. The accompaniment here is more legato than it was for either Sibella or Monty. The orchestra is actually doubling her part for much of the song with the result that the orchestral texture feels heavier than in her rival’s solo numbers. Phoebe is also less playful than Sibella—she uses a lot of even rhythms in her melody which gives it a more mature, sophisticated feel (appropriate for an aristocrat). But this evenness means that we don’t get any of the playful short-long-longs that are present in both Sibella and Monty’s music (I should mention that this rhythmic idea also appears in Monty’s “Poison in My Pocket” and Sibella’s “Poor Monty” so its appearance is by no means an isolated incident). Finally, Phoebe’s vocal ornaments are much more sophisticated than Sibella’s. Whereas Sibella dressed up her melody with a few cutesy triplets, Phoebe shows off with some impressive trills and an ascent to a high Eb.
Lauren Worsham sings "Inside Out" as Phoebe in the original Broadway cast.
So what does this tell us about Phoebe? Well, clearly this character has a more sophisticated musical style than Sibella. And while that is appropriate for a character of her class, it actually distances her from Monty. Clearly our hero has much more in common with Sibella than with his soon-to-be-wife.
The Act I finale also seems to support this idea. The melody sung by Lord Asquith and Phoebe is calm and steady, befitting a couple of aristocrats, but when Sibella interrupts, the piece begins to move much more quickly. And who else breaks the pace? Monty, that’s who. Like Sibella, Monty basically doubles the tempo of the music when he interrupts.
Gentleman's Guide Act I Finale: "The Last One You'd Expect"
Monty also betrays his musical connection with Sibella in the trio “I’ve Decided to Marry You.” (On a side note, you should really watch the Tony performance of this number because it’s delightful.) Phoebe begins the piece, establishing her melody. Then Sibella gets a turn and we are given a completely different musical idea. It may be a trio, but Sibella and Phoebe’s musical choices are actually pretty distinct. The only times they sing similar musical phrases are in moments where they happen to be having the same thought, as is the case when they both consider the charms of “half-Castilian men.” When Monty begins his portion of the trio, he actually begins in a style very similar to Sibella’s (compare his “Isn’t this madness? Who could foresee...” with Sibella’s “What am I doing here? This could be dangerous...”). But then Monty launches into a new musical idea (“Look at Phoebe, noble and pious...”). Introducing a third distinct melody allows Monty to effectively distance himself from both women and their respective musical choices, postponing the moment when he must choose between them. However, those first few measures have already given us a glimpse of his true inclinations. Monty clearly has more in common with Sibella than with Phoebe.
Tradition may give the edge to Phoebe, but clearly Monty has a much deeper connection with Sibella. This may seem like a no-brainer to some of you. After all, Monty sings an entire song about Sibella but there is no corresponding number entitled “Phoebe.” BUT, before you dismiss the usefulness of this musical analysis, I think we need to consider what it can tell us about Monty and Sibella’s relationship. There’s something telling about the fact that Monty’s musical vocabulary is so similar to hers. One might dismiss his infatuation with Sibella as a childhood crush, a relationship founded on obsession rather than mutual affection, but the score is actually telling us that Monty and Sibella have a deep connection, an intimacy that is betrayed by the similarity of their respective musical choices.