A guy longing to get his mitts on a family earldom and inheritance by blithely knocking off eight in line before him, while romancing two women in early 20th century England, sounds like an implausible plot for success. But “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” became the 2014 four-Tony darling due to its hilarity, intricate pacing, acting and characters. That includes the same actor playing the knocked-off relatives.
You want to see this smash, brilliant hit that had audiences cheering loud and long. (This reviewer witnessed it on Broadway in 2015.) Gateway patrons will be treated to the original choreographer, Peggy Hickey, as well as James Taylor Odom, who’s played in “A Gentleman’s Guide” National Tour as the eight hapless victims.
Storied Broadway, Lincoln Center, and PBS veteran Hickey has signed on as the director and choreographer for The Gateway’s production launching Nov. 17 to December 4.
The other talented actors in the musical include Blake Price as the murderous, charming Monty Novarro who really covets that Earl of Highhurst title. Gail Bennet is the luscious Sibella who loves Monty but doesn’t want to be poor and tender Kelley Dorney as Phoebe D’Ysquith provides the interesting side-splitting love triangle.
Hickey sat for an interview this week for the Advance with Odom who plays the unfortunate D’Ysquith family members who bite the dust.
Hickey was asked what she thought when first presented with the unusual premise.
Was it, uh, love at first murder?
“It took a while to understand the show,” Hickey said frankly. “It’s about a guy who kills people. It’s macabre and hilarious and we had to keep the D’Ysquith family members odorous so that the audience was okay with them being bumped off. The whole theme is mocking the British upper class.”
The story is actually based on a 1907 novel.
Interestingly Hickey added that the musical never made it to London, usually one of the first stops after U.S. out of town previews.
“The thinking was audiences wouldn’t like it because of the upper class jibes,” she said. “ It is being adapted for a movie. Our book writer turned in the screenplay,” she said. “I’m told it’s in the process.”
Hickey promised the same Broadway show; Gateway was using the national tour set.
Odom, who’s performed in “A Gentleman’s Guide” national tour as the murdered characters, is lithe and in great shape, needed for the physical role of bounding across the stage waiting to be killed. Did he lift weights or go to the gym?
“I’m not a gym rat,” he said. “Theater is my gym. I’ve done roles in `Thirty-Nine Steps,’ (150 characters played by four actors) and `Murder for Two.” (a whodunit for two characters who sing and play the piano). I happen to have an abundance of energy. I was concerned about the two-year hiatus after ending my last national tour but it does come back.”
Odem did see the Broadway version when it debuted in 2013 starring Jefferson Mays as the unfortunate D’Ysquith relatives. “My acting mentor bought me a ticket,” he said. “We sat in the balcony and he said `this is your role.’ And I said, `that’s what I want to do.’ It’s highly skilled, very specific and has a number of roles.”
At 4 a.m. he was third in line at the open call for the 2017-2018 National Touring Production. “I had just done `Murder for Two,’ in 2012-2013 and then was called back four times. When you go to the audition, you bring your own material. For the callback, I did three D’Ysquith characters. I remember Peggy (Hickey) being there.” He repeated the role again at the Tuachan Center for the Arts. From 2018-2019 Odom traveled across North America in the National Tour of Jack O’Brian’s production of The Sound of Music playing three roles including Captain Von Trapp.
Odom was born and raised in Lawrenceville, Georgia. His love of storytelling was foreshadowed by a grandfather who was a country-western songwriter for greats like Eddie Arnold and Patsy Cline (he was also first guitarist for Irving Berlin in World War II). But it was nurtured by his dad, Wayne, in a major way. Wayne acted out movie roles. “My dad loved British films, classic American cinema, musicals, Abbot and Costello,” Odom said. “There wasn’t a day that went by where we didn’t see a movie,” Odom, who has a movie collection of 1,700 films, said.
(His brother is a movie producer.)
The Broadway production and touring performances have brought people to their feet at the end of the musical with everyone getting their due. But especially the D’Ysquith family actor. Odom was modest about the audience reaction saying “this entire show is worthy of that.”
Hickey provided more specifics. “We project all the characters he played at the end,” she said. “Sometimes audience members don’t realize it’s the same actor.”
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