Theater preview: High British farce ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’ debuts at Fox

The cast with James Taylor Odom as Lord Adalbert D Ysquith (red) and Blake Price (far right) as Monty Navarro in a scene from “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” which will play the Fox March 13-18. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

If it’s wacky and it’s British, there must be laughter, right?

Throw in the premise of middle-class Englishman Lord Montague “Monty” D’Ysquith Navarro discovering that he is ninth in line to inherit the earldom of Highhurst and deciding he will dispatch with the other eight in order to claim his rightful place, and there is serious hilarity potential.

To add to the dramedy, there is also a fiancee, a mistress and the possibility of being jailed.

Such farcical humor propels “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” The musical is on its second national tour, but will debut at the Fox Theatre today and play through Sunday.

Lawrenceville native James Taylor Odom as Lord Adalbert D Ysquith in a scene from “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.” Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel.

Based on the 1907 novel “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal” by British writer Roy Horniman, the production earned four Tony Awards, including best musical and best direction of a musical (for Darko Tresnjak), in 2014.

One of the most challenging roles in the show — that of the eight members of the D’Ysquith Family — was originated by Broadway staple Jefferson Mays. On this current tour, the quick-change part is handled by Lawrenceville native James Taylor Odom.

Behind the scenes, Peggy Hickey, the director and choreographer for this national tour, also created its choreography for workshops in Hartford, Conn., in 2012 and that lauded Broadway run (November 2013-January 2016).

Hickey, who choreographed the current Broadway hit “Anastasia,” chatted recently about her affection for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” its fleet choreography and the future of the show.

Q: This looks like quite a rollicking good time.

A: (The show) is delightful. We have “Anastasia” rolling out (on tour) all over Europe, so that’s the new, shiny tour. But when I set the “Gentleman’s” tour back in September, I told my team, it’s still so fun and so fresh and so clever. We just flew to Portland to see it, and I went yay, it’s entertaining 3,000 people a night and they’re roaring with laughter. It gives me so much joy. Something we thought was fun in Hartford seven years ago … that just thrills me to death. Life feels so intense right now, and it’s so necessary, this delight and surprise. You can bring kids to this; there is a Wile E. Coyote feel to it.

Q: You’ve been involved since the very beginning of the show. What drew you to it?

A: Without meaning to be, I was an Anglophile as a kid — “Monty Python,” “Benny Hill” — things we could only see on PBS. That stuff always spoke to me. We call this show “Downton Abbey” Meets Death. There’s a poisonous dinner party at the end of Act 2 and it’s super choreographed. The music is so pointed — and that’s the other fun thing, the music (by Steven Lutvak and Robert L. Freedman) is so brilliantly witty. It’s the combination of the music and the book that give you such a beautiful palette.

Q: Tell me about casting James Taylor Odom.

A: James Taylor is a genius. The man who originated this role, Jefferson Mays, was with me for casting (and) when James walked into the room, we looked at each other like, can it be? James is also an Anglophile who grew up on PBS and (BBC drama) “Upstairs Downstairs.”

(L-R) Colleen McLaughlin as Sibella Hallward, Blake Price as Monty Navarro and Erin McIntyre as Phoebe D’Ysquith in a scene from “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.” Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel.

Q: The choreography in the show is just as much slapstick and coordination of shootings as it is traditional dancing. Is that an even bigger challenge to stage?

A: It’s all physical and exactly choreographed. It’s high farce. I’m doing “Jersey Boys” next year, and I don’t have to spend as much time on (The Four Seasons’) “Who Loves You” as much as I do an English guy killing off his family. Whenever you do staging that is highly driven by the book, you have to be on your game to make people laugh and make it make sense. It’s exhausting for the actors to be so specific. Every part of your body must be still, but your pinkie must move. Now it’s in their muscle memory, but learning it. … There are so many shows like “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” where more and more directors are starting to understand the power of movement that isn’t shuffle and turn to the right.

Q: What does the future hold for the show after this second tour?

A: Once it closes, regional theaters can do it. It’s about to be licensed around the country, which is so exciting. But what you’re getting is what won the Tony Award. It’s exactly what was on Broadway.


THEATER PREVIEW

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”

7:30 p.m. March 13-15; 8 p.m. March 16; 2 and 8 p.m. March 17; 1 and 6:30 p.m. March 18. $30-$105.50. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 1-855-285-8499, http://www.foxtheatre.org.

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