James Taylor Odom is the ultimate quick-change artist (for one switch he has as little as 14 seconds). The actor portrays all eight of the doomed relations of Monty Navarro, the penniless distant heir who conspires to secure the family title and fortune by any dastardly means necessary, in the national tour company production of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” at Tilles Center Saturday night.
Odom says he does not have a favorite among the colorful clan of well-heeled Brits — six men and two women — he plays. “It changes day to day. Each performance, I discover something new,” he says.
While over the course of two hours, the character of Monty Navarro (played by Blake Price) indeed has his bit of bloody fun, Odom engages in his own inventive high jinks as, among others, a priest, a banker, a bodybuilder and an actress (“not a very good one,” he quips), traversing the stage on scooter and ice skates, as well as by dancing and hobbling with a cane. The means by which Odom, in his various roles, meets his death are equally wide-ranging — from bee-attracting perfume to a collapsed gangplank to an overweight barbell.
“It can all flow together, but the minute I put a costume on, it informs my moves and helps me to create the character,” he says, referring, for example, to the traditional Edwardian top hat and topcoat he dons as Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith, one of eight get-ups requiring the assistance of two dressers and a hair-and-makeup person for him to slip into.
While surely Odom is a chameleonic wonder, adopting an impressive array of guises, vocal inflections and dispositions to bring Monty’s motley lineup of victims convincingly and uproariously to life, the actor does take a bit of comfort in their familial resemblance. “They are different,” he admits, “yet the same. They are all English aristocrats related to one another.”
Having opened in Madison, Wisconsin, in early October and slated to appear in some 60 cities, the second national tour of “A Gentleman’s Guide” is a testament to the enduring appeal of the madcap, 2014 Tony Award-winning musical written by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak and based on Roy Horniman’s 1907 novel, “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal.” Although a new cast has slipped into its juicy roles, the production’s Gilbert and Sullivan theatricality, charming period costumes and fanciful Victorian-era, music-hall-like set is unchanged. “The stylized stage-within-a-stage format helps the audience — helps them be in on the joke,” Odom says.
In fact, in the actor’s view, the audience is another character of sorts, playing its part in the wicked merriment. “When everyone, the audience and the actors, is firing on all cylinders, breathing, or discovering the moment, together,” he says, “it lifts off the ground in a magical way.”
WHAT “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Saturday at Tilles Center for the Performing Arts, LIU Post, 720 Northern Blvd., Brookville
ADMISSION $31-$88; 516-299-3100, tillescenter.org
WHAT The rock musical “Hair,” and its exploration of such high-charged topics as identity, patriotism and world peace, may seem even more of-the-moment than it did a half-century ago, when the revolutionary musical made its Off-Broadway debut. For the next several weekends, the “tribe” from Hofstra University’s Drama and Dance Department presents the iconic 1960s production celebrating the counterculture vibe. With its many songs-turned-anthems, such as “Good Morning Starshine” and “Aquarius,” “Hair” is not only subversive in its theme but also in its staging as the first musical to invite audiences onstage. Grab your bell-bottoms and beads for a chance to join the “Be-in” finale and tap into your Flower Power.
WHEN | WHERE Friday through Nov. 5, Fridays-Saturdays 8 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m., Martin and Toni Sosnoff Theater, John Cranford Adams Playhouse, South Campus, Hofstra University, Hempstead
TICKETS $10; two free tickets with staff/student HofstraCard, 516-463-6644, hofstratickets.com