“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” winner of four 2014 Tony awards, including Best Musical, is coming to Milwaukee this week, from May 1-6.
The show stars Blake Price as the character of Monty Navarro, a penniless man who discovers that he is ninth in line to a large inheritance and title and that he is an estranged member of the wealthy, aristocratic D’Ysquith family, which is played entirely by James Taylor Odom. Disinherited and ignored by his family and seeking to impress his lover, Monty takes fate into his own hands and goes on a mission to murder the eight family members ahead of him in line.
The dark comedy is reminiscent of old Broadway shows and features romance, suspense and some good British humor. The writing is extremely clever. The characters, despite being not very good people, are likable. It’s enjoyable and hilarious in a somewhat twisted way, and sure to be a show not to miss.
Perhaps one of the most amusing parts of the show is the fact that all eight members of the D’Ysquith family are played by one actor.
Each character played by Odom meets an outrageously theatrical fate at the usually indirect hands of Monty, leaving audiences hungering for the next preposterous situation featuring Monty’s quick wit and whatever D’Ysquith — male or female, young or old — stands as his next target.
“It’s a lot for an actor to play with … It’s exhausting and exciting all at the same time,” Odom said. Playing eight vastly different characters throughout the course of a two-hour show involves fast-paced costume changes and rapid mental transitions for the actor, who convincingly switches between characters with different voices, movements, and mannerisms.
While the character changes are fast and often involve behind-the-scenes assistance, Odom does not find his own mental transitions between characters to be particularly difficult.
“These are British archetypes, so the journey isn’t, like, the deepest … These are characters that pretty much say what they want. They kind of explain who they are in a very forward way,” he said. “As soon as I die as one character and run offstage, I’m diving into the next costume, clearing my mind of what’s happened before and embracing the next moment.”
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” was a long time in the making for co-authors Steven Lutvak and Robert L. Freedman, who spent more than a decade developing the musical. Initially written as a musical based off of the movie “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” the show had to be rewritten when the pair lost the rights to the movie. This ultimately led to the musical as it is known today. It ran on Broadway November 2013 to January 2016 and is currently on its second National Tour.
For Odom, playing the D’Ysquith family has felt like a culmination of “a lifetime of preparation.” Since he was five years old, Odom has had an interest in British comedy, film and theatre.
“Since I was a kid, in many ways, these classic British characters I had been keeping in my back pocket,” Odom said. “During my graduate school process I did a lot of one-man material, multi-character work.”
In addition, having experience in roles in a multitude of shows both vastly different and very similar have shaped Odom into the versatile actor he is today.
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” portrays a story of love, deceit, desire and determination in a comically dark manner. The second National Touring production is at the Marcus Center for only one week.