NORTH EAST — Telling a tale of romance, riches, redemption and the risks one man takes to achieve all three, Milburn Stone Theatre’s production of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” puts the laughter in slaughter.
The musical comedy premiered on Broadway in 2013 and made its way to Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre in 2016. Now, the show has found its way to Cecil College’s Milburn Stone Theatre where it will run April 5-7 and 12-14.
Montague “Monty” D’Ysquith Navarro, played by actor Nick Castillo, is not only part of the wealthy and powerful D’Ysquith family but he is also ninth in line to become the Earl of Highhurst and inherit the family fortune. Upon discovering this, Monty sets out to kill off the eight relatives who stand between him and a life of riches.
As Monty climbs his figurative family tree, he makes sure to leave no branches in his way on his ascension to the top. But the show makes sure audiences are in on the joke not to take the familicide too seriously, according to Andrew Mitchell, the executive director at MST and the director for this show.
“Come with an open mind,” he said. “A lot of people early on heard the word ‘murder’ and thought this was going to be grizzly. I can tell you a thousand times over it is not grizzly. It’s light and it’s fanciful.”
Part of the charm of “A Gentleman’s Guide” is the fact that Monty’s D’Ysquith kin are all played by one actor.
Ed Emmi plays the D’Ysquith family in this production. But be sure not to get too attached to any of his characters as most of them meet their untimely demise by the end of the show.
Taking on so many different characters, who are collectively in most of the show’s scenes, means Emmi has to switch costumes and personas behind stage as fast as possible.
“It keeps me on my toes … There are times I don’t even know who the next character is,” he said. “My dressers are back there with ‘Here’s who you are next’ and then I realize ‘OK, this is the scene I’m going into.’”
Before auditioning for MST’s production, Emmi had heard of “A Gentleman’s Guide” but had never actually seen the show — a fact which allowed him to put his stamp on each role instead of emulating another actor’s take on the characters.
“I’m kind of glad I didn’t see the show because I could bring my own style to it ... I didn’t want to mimic anybody,” he said. “I really like the fact that this is a new experience for me and one of the few shows that I’ve ever done and never seen before.”
When crafting his characters, Emmi said he tried to give each of them their own unique spark by playing up certain characteristics such as their voice, movement or appearance.
“I just think of the situations that they’re in and I do try to think of mannerisms … just something that’s distinct to that character,” he said.
Emmi also enjoys the songs he gets to sing as each of his characters.
“This is one of the few shows that I’ve done where it’s a funny show with really great music,” he said. “My characters get a lot of great music to sing and that’s rare because usually when you’re a comedic character, you don’t get good songs.”
Of all the D’Ysquith family members, Emmi’s favorite one to play is Lady Hyacinth, Monty’s older female relative who takes on philanthropic endeavors to advance her own social standing.
“She’s just a fun one to do and there’s so much going on with that, so I really like that one … It’s a joyful number (the song ‘Lady Hyacinth Abroad’) and there’s a lot of technical stuff going on with that,” he said.
Mitchell’s favorite D’Ysquith, on the other hand, is Lady Salome, an actress starring in a production of Henrik Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler.” While her time in the show is the shortest of all the D’Ysquiths, Mitchell said her role is a dedication to another theatrical piece.
“They’re making fun of the show ‘Hedda Gabler,’ which has a famous gun scene in it, but they’re mocking an Edwardian piece of theater inside of a faux Edwardian piece of theater while the audience is watching theater,” he said. “It’s a fun little thing where you can revel in the chewing of scenery that literally Lady Salome does on stage.
With so many character and set changes, Mitchell said it was imperative for this production to trim anything from the stage that wasn’t necessary to tell the story.
“Sometimes for a show like this it’s not ‘Let’s fill the stage with items.’ It’s finding out what’s essential to the story and focusing more on that,” he said. “If I don’t need it, I don’t want it because I know how quickly it has to come off. This isn’t static. This is a moving set that lives and breathes, and we have to play with it.”
With so much going on in this show, Mitchell said they decided to created a tiered stage to help funnel the audience’s attention.
“We were trying to make everything feel smaller,” he said. “It should look like a smaller space compared to what audiences are used to at the theater. Why? Because I’m creating a backstage area that sometimes we don’t have, but also trying to focus the attention.”
To accommodate the smaller field of view on stage, Mitchell said they had to move people from the box seats because otherwise they would miss a lot of the show from the balconies.
In 2014, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” earned Tony awards for “Best Musical,” “Best Book of a Musical,” “Best Direction of a Musical,” and “Best Costume Design.”
But aside from its run on Broadway and the tour that came to Baltimore, Mitchell said the show hasn’t been widely performed, making it an exciting show for MST to take on and for audiences to see. He encouraged audiences to come witness the show’s smart but silly story for themselves.
“Unless you saw it on Broadway or you saw it at the Hippodrome, you have not seen this show,” he said. “They will find something new … This is goofy, it’s madcap, it’s a fun love story but also if you drag a date along they’re going to really enjoy the comedy in the show as well.”
Showtimes and ticket prices can be found on www.milburnstone.com.