The director of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, Walter M. Mayes, sat down with us for an interview describing the show’s creative evolution since winning the 2014 “Best Musical” Tony on Broadway and how South Bay Musical Theatre is giving it an Edwardian rather than Victorian look.
Watch the video in two parts below, or read the transcript.
How do you describe this musical to your friends and family?
A man finds out that he is eighth in line for a title in England in the 1910s and accidentally stumbles into a plot where he figures out how to remove all of the obstacles in his path, all the while entertaining two different women who could become his wife. And hilarity ensues.
What do you love about this musical?
There’s so much about the show that I love. I love the opportunity to tell a succinct story in a theatrically wild style. It has a very, very clear goal of letting the audience follow the trajectory and identify with this young, hapless man, who takes on the task of revenging his mother who has been ostracized by her family. I like the fact that it has lots of wonderful bits and comedy bits and romantic bits and precision bits for the “players” (as we’re calling our ensemble), and I believe, at last count, 97 costumes.
How was this production different from the Broadway production?
Well, Broadway had a lot more money to spend on the show than we did and we have to be creative with our choices. There are certain aspects of the show that are design elements that are dictated by the script, so we do have to follow how certain things are done—the way they were done on Broadway. But we are also putting our own style onto the show. Our design elements are reflecting an illustrator that I’m very fond of named Edward Gorey whose Edwardian line drawings lend themselves beautifully to this particular expression. And our ensemble: instead of an ensemble of six as they had on Broadway, we have an ensemble of 10, which allows us to spread the parts around a few more players.
Who was Edward Gorey, and what about his work inspired you?
Edward Gorey was very eccentric illustrator and writer who was known for his very detailed, black-and-white line illustrations that were done in pen and ink that always featured people in Edwardian clothing and always featured slightly macabre tellings and absurdist situations. The marriage of Gorey-inspired design and the story that this story is trying to tell sets the perfect tone for a lighthearted Edwardian murder mystery romp.
What advice would you give to those who don’t have tickets yet?
As soon as you can see that you can buy a ticket to A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder, you want to grab all of your friends, go and have a nice dinner and a glass of wine, and come to the Saratoga Civic Theater, and watch us put on a show that will delight and astound you with beautiful voices, wonderful acting, and stunning production values: a beautiful set, and gorgeous costumes, and a fabulous orchestra. I hope to see you there.
INTERVIEW, PART TWO
What about the show has you the most excited?
What has me most excited? Well, let’s start off with the fact that it’s one of the few musicals that is written with two leads for legit sopranos, so I have access to extraordinary talent in this show. Every single one of my cast is a beautiful, beautiful singer. My leads are just astonishing, and they can act, too.
What type of show is A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder?
This is one of those shows that pulls its inspiration from a variety of places. It’s very much British music hall. It’s got influences of grand opera and operetta. There is more than a touch of Gilbert & Sullivan in here, and then traditional musical comedy tropes throughout. One of the things that’s very interesting about this show musically is it features a lot of waltzes. I mean, I think there are, like, six or seven of them in the show, and that’s unusual for musical theatre
What other shows would you compare this to?
Imagine that Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe collaborated on a novel together. Then Gilbert & Sullivan decided that they were going to turn it into an operetta, and then Oscar Wilde got ahold of the script and touched it up with little flairs of his own.
It’s definitely set in the same era as the earlier Downton Abbey episodes. Definitely if you like The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and the music hall feeling of this, there is a certain element of that in this show. And then, I also think of any of the great British comedies of, I believe the studio was called Ealing. They made wonderful black and white comedies, many of which starred people like Peter Sellers, and Alec Guinness, and if you like that kind of British humor, not quite into the world of Monty Python, but everything that Monty Python is based on, you’re going to love this kind of musical.
Is this another Sweeney Todd?
Oh. Well, no. Sweeney makes no pretense about being funny, and A Gentleman‘s Guide To Love And Murder is a very funny show. It is about a man who stumbles into murder, not a man who sets out to get revenge on the world by slashing all their throats. It’s based on an old British comic movie called Kind Hearts And Coronets, and it featured Alec Guinness as every member of this family that gets murdered and it’s a comic tour-de-force performance, so when they created the musical they kept the same device of one actor playing all nine roles.
Why was SBMT so eager to do this show?
If you look at SBMT’s history, we have, when possible, leapt on the chance to be the first company in the South Bay or even in the Bay Area to produce a successful Broadway show. This show won the Tony in 2014, and this will be the first Bay Area production of it by an amateur group. We are very excited to do that. We think with the small cast and the brilliant production values, and the glorious score, and the orchestrations, we think this is a show that our patrons will love, but it will also bring in new patrons who love new theatre to come into our theater and watch what we can do.