PICTURED ABOVE: James Taylor Odom as Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith (and friend). Photos by Jeremy Daniel.
Anglophile — and Georgia native — James Taylor Odom plays 8 ‘deliciously nasty’ characters in Gentleman’s Guide, the American-made musical comedy set in Edwardian England.
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” runs March 13-18 at the Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE. Details, tickets HERE or at 855.285.8499.
ATLANTA AUDIENCES seem never to tire of certain musical spectacles. Think Phantom of the Opera or Wicked, which pull into town every few years.
It’s anybody’s guess if they’ll be just as smitten with the giddy Brit-themed A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, which won the 2014 Tony Award for best musical.
Think “Downton Abbey” meets Gilbert & Sullivan meets Oscar Wilde with a dash of Monty Python tossed in. You might also deduce an Edwin Drood vibe. Still, Gentleman’s Guide is a fully American invention. And, a deliciously cheeky one, at that.
The songs are “streams of memorable melody” and “fizzily witty turns of phrase,” said The New York Times. Might theatergoers leave the Fox singing the suspiciously up-tempo “Why Are All the D’Ysquiths Dying?” (The surname is pronounced DIES-quith.)
The musical, described by USA Today as “morbidly hilarious,” is based on the 1949 movie Kind Hearts and Coronets, a British black comedy. It, in turn, was inspired by the 1907 Roy Horniman novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal.
The plot turns on Monty Navarro, who’s in love with the social-climbing Sibella. Monty can’t marry her because he’s a pauper. But, when his mother dies, he learns he has aristocratic blood. What luck! Monty is ninth in line to inherit the family fortune and earldom of Highhurst.
What’s a clever fellow to do?
Knock off the eight D’Ysquiths who precede him, perhaps?
The conceit: One actor plays all eight corpses-to-be. On film, Alec Guinness played the ill-fated eccentrics. On Broadway, Jefferson Mays won critical bouquets, a Tony Award nomination and a Drama Desk Award for playing the role/roles billed as “The D’Ysquith Family.”
Gentleman’s Guide also won Tonys for director Darko Tresnjak, librettist Robert L. Freedman and costume designer Linda Cho. The revenge fantasy is on its second national tour but making its inaugural trip to Atlanta. James Taylor Odom comes home to do the D’Ysquith Family sprint.
Odom, 27, grew up in Lawrenceville and got a theater degree from Brenau University. He endured a months-long audition process before being cast as the “Family.”
He’s always been something of an Anglophile,” Odom says. As a kid, he and his dad watched the Blake Edwards Pink Panther movies endlessly (A Shot in the Dark is his favorite). He recalls running around the house imitating Peter Sellers and “breaking things.”
Regionally, he has done a bunch of Brits: Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins, Sherlock Holmes in Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville, Charles Marlow in She Stoops to Conquer. At Berkmar High in Lilburn, he played Harold Hill in The Music Man and the Elvis-inspired Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie.
News of the Gentleman’s Guide casting call came while he was doing nine shows a week as Henry Higgins at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre in Lancaster, Pa. “I couldn’t pass up the chance,” he says. “After a two-show day I got myself to New York for that open call. I was fifth in line, and nobody knew me.”
His 32-page “audition packet” included songs and sides for all eight characters — from several gentlemen to the impossible Lady Hyacinth and the terribly bad actress Lady Salome. Each is ridiculously snooty. Odom’s favorite D’Ysquith changes nightly, depending on the audience, his fellow actors and how any particular character decides to live in the moment of that performance.
“They all come alive and always surprise me,” he says. “That’s where the fun lies. The minute I put on a costume, that informs my moves and helps me create that character.
“I will say this,” he offers, confidentially. “How Henry the beekeeper dies is a particularly favorite death of mine.”
If you’re seeing the musical for the first time, Odom says, just sit back and enjoy. Don’t worry about who’s who or the order of succession. “You’re going to meet them all, and I think each of them is deliciously nasty.”
Odom has dressers and a makeup artist in the wings to help him morph from one D’Ysquith to the next. For one change, he has a mere 14 seconds.
“It really is a beast of a role. It does a number on the body and the mind,” he says. “But, when you love it so much, it’s all worth it.”