Gentleman's guide

The national touring company cast of A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder includes James Taylor Odom as Lord Adalbert D'Ysquith (red) and Blake Price (far right) as Monty Navarro.

Jeremy Daniel

It’s true that family members tend to resemble each other, but few resemblances are as striking as those among members of the fictional D’Ysquith family.

That’s because the British peers at the center of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder — a musical comedy opening May 1 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts — all happen to be played by actor James Taylor Odom.

Odom’s eight characterizations — and the actor’s quick-change artistry that bring them to life — are a large part of the fun in the Tony Award-winning musical, part of the Broadway Across America  series.

But Odom, who has been on the road with the second U.S. tour of the 2013 musical since September, admits his role is not an easy one to play.

“Is it a dream role or nightmare?” the Lawrenceville, Georgia, native asks. “Well, it’s the role of a lifetime, but it’s a little bit of both.”

The story, in short, involves the efforts by the disinherited Lord Montague “Monty” D’Ysquith Navarro (Blake Price) to secure his position as heir to the House of Highhurst. Monty is ninth in line for the earldom and its accompanying status and wealth, meaning he will have to kill eight other family members to ensure his inheritance.

Odom plays all of those D’Ysquith family members, including Lord Asquith, Lady Hyacinth, Major Lord Bartholomew, Lady Salome D’Ysquith Pumphery and four more. 

Eleven other actors, including Price, round out the cast.

“I play the doomed, nasty and delicious D’Ysquith family members,” Odom says. “Having one actor play all the roles is the crux of the comedy.”


‘Costume changes like choreography’

This is not Odom’s first outing playing multiple roles. While in college at the University of Arkansas, the actor mounted two one-person shows: an adaptation of The Maltese Falcon and an original work The Mystery Bookshop Musical. 

In professional productions of the musical comedy Murder for Two, Odom played all 13 suspects opposite another actor playing the role of the detective.

“These were split-second onstage changes, with only a single prop and different voices to note the change in character,” he says. In Gentleman’s Guide, the character changes are somewhat more substantial.

“Every time I am killed onstage, I have to run off and have a complete costume and makeup change,” Odom says. “We usually have about 14 seconds to do this.”

The process requires a team of dressers, wig masters and makeup people who envelop Odom as he comes offstage. The ornate Victorian-era costumes are designed to be torn away from the front by the dresser as a wig is replaced, old makeup is wiped clean and new makeup applied.

“The costume changes are run like choreography because of the insane turnaround time,” says Odom. “After awhile it becomes second nature, but there is always a wild card because we hire a local dresser in every town we perform in, and that person doesn’t get to practice doing the changes until showtime.”

During those same short periods, Odom has to change to the new character and voice. Since this is a musical, that means a change both in speaking and singing voices, and the actor confesses that’s the hardest adjustment of all.

“We all have natural singing voices, and to suddenly assume an affected singing voice takes time and practice,” the actor explains. “But I do a blend of speak-singing and that helps in the development of my characters.”

Odom has never mistakenly inserted the voice and mannerism of one character into another, although he has been given the wrong costume at the wrong time. Thus far, the snafus have been caught before he reappeared onstage and without breaking the timing protocols.

“The characters I play almost seem Shakespearian,” Odom adds. “His characters are deliberate, they say what they mean and act upon it, just like the British archetypes I am playing.

“The work has already been done for me in the creation of the characters,” he adds. “I just have to use my brief 14 seconds to decide who and what comes next.”

'A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder' runs May 1–6 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets, $31 to $144, are available by calling the box office at 414-273-7206 or by visiting


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