Comic timing is part of star’s challenge in ‘A Gentleman’s Guide’

Adrienne Eller, right, with Kristen Beth Williams (Sibella, left) and Kevin Massey (Monty) in “I Want to Marry You.”
Adrienne Eller, right, with Kristen Beth Williams (Sibella, left) and Kevin Massey (Monty) in “I Want to Marry You.”

In its first national tour, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is introducing America to the daffy musical that took the Broadway theater season by storm in 2013-2014. It’s at the Fox Theatre through Sept. 25.

It is also introducing Adrienne Eller to America. She plays fiance Phoebe, who is part of the wealthy D’Ysquith family that disowned protagonist Monty Navarro’s mother when she married a musician.

Navarro is obsessed with re-claiming his birthright so he can inherit the royal fortune. Only eight relatives stand before him in the line of succession. His solution? Knock them off. The diabolical scheme, while dark and edgy, turns out to be hilarious, too.

A musical about a serial killer?

“It is a lot of fun! It’s so well-written,” Eller said during a phone interview from Dallas. Her six-month tour started with Chicago this year.

The show, which closed on Broadway in January, won four Tony Awards — best musical, book (Robert L. Freedman), director (Darko Tresnjak) and costume design (Linda Cho) in 2014.

Set in buttoned-up Edwardian England, all the characters look like those proper times, but underneath the corsets and polite manners, wackiness ensues and behavior becomes outrageous.

Eller said she enjoys the slapstick and the challenges of getting the comic timing just right.

“It’s really one-of-a-kind show. I think people will be pleasantly surprised. It harkens back to another era, but it really has a modern tempo and rhythm,” she said.

The musical was originally based on two sources — the 1907 novel, “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal,” by Roy Horniman, and the 1949 Alec Guinness tour-de-force film inspired by it, “Kind Hearts and Coronets.”

But the film rights were rescinded when composer Stephen Lutvak, and co-lyricist and book writer Freeman, were working on the musical, so they took out anything based on the movie material.

Alec Guinness, Oscar nominated for his acting, played all eight victims in the film.

That is what Tony nominee Jefferson Mays did on Broadway, earning raves for all eight parts, and John Rapson is doing on tour, earning cheering ovations for those quick costume changes.

However, the occupations and personalities of each character are different from the movie.

The creators made sure of there were clear distinctions for copyright reasons.

“We needed to make the D’Ysquiths all odious enough that you didn’t mind seeing them killed off. We needed to write Monty sympathetically and to cast Monty sympathetically,” Lutvak said in a press release interview.

“I think there are certain things about his predicament in life that are inherently sympathetic and that anybody can identify with; he’s an underdog and, not only did he grow up poor, but he was denied the kind of life that he should have been born into and should’ve had. His mother sacrificed everything for him and she basically died having suffered a great deal. Also, the one girl that he loves won’t marry him because he is poor and has no position. So he realized this was all caused by this family that rejected his mother. I think there isn’t anyone who hasn’t fantasized about getting revenge,” Freedman said in the interview made available to the press.

“We also felt the way to help him be more sympathetic was to make sure all the people he killed were as loathsome as possible. And they’re all loathsome in different ways, but in kind of the same way, in their attitude toward the little people, and their arrogance, which is silly. They’re all silly people, too,” he continued.

In addition to Rapson playing the eight D’Ysquith heirs, a chorus of six people takes on multiple roles, too.

Kevin Massey, who played Monty on Broadway, reprises this leading role on tour. He performed at the Muny before, as Willard in “Footloose,” and was at the Fox as Almanzo in the first national tour of “Little House on the Prairie.”

Kristen Beth Williams is Sibella, who won’t marry Monte because of his station in life, yet will fool around with him.

“We have so many funny people in this cast. They are great fun to be around, and it’s a really fun show to be in,” she said.

As her first national tour, Eller is pinching herself.

“I love the road. We go on adventures together,” she said.

She grew up in Northern California, near San Francisco. As a youngster, she started performing in a San Jose children’s summer theater camp. Then she was cast in musicals all year long.

“I knew it was want I wanted to do,” she said. “I loved it.”

Eller flew across the country to attend New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She graduated in 2015 with a BFA in drama under the New Studio on Broadway.

“Phoebe is from an old English family, so getting the accent down was a lot of fun,” she said.

“My favorite scene is the song ‘I’ve Decided to Marry You.’ Monty has to hide his mistress Sibella when I burst in. Doors are slamming, she is listening. It’s a standout moment. The audience loves it. A big part of the show is the physical comedy,” she said.

The music was challenging, but in a good way, she explained.

“The music is very accessible and lyrical, the score is beautiful, like classical music, and the storytelling is upbeat and fast-paced. It’s very catchy and melodic. Stephen and Robert are brilliant. It was a lot of fun for me,” she said.

The New York Times concurred. “A Gentleman’s Guide will lift the hearts of all those who’ve been pining for what sometimes seems a lost art form,” the reviewer raved.

For additional information, visit the website, www.AGentlemansGuideBroadway.com.

When: Now through Sept. 25

Where: The Fox Theatre, St. Louis

Information: MetroTix 314-534-1111 or www.fabulousfox.com