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Sep 22, 2016

Murder most hilarious: ‘A Gentleman’s Guide’ arrives

Greenville News

Paul Hyde, [email protected]:26 p.m. EDT September 22, 2016

A musical comedy about a serial killer?

The question provokes a hearty guffaw from John Rapson.

“Yeah, that’s basically it,” said Rapson, one of the stars of the national tour of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.”

The Tony Award-winning musical arrives at the Peace Center on Tuesday for eight performances through Sunday.

“It’s about a guy who bumps off his relatives in hilarious ways,” Rapson said. “What makes it so funny is that the guy is so likeable and the relatives are uniformly detestable.”

Rapson should know: He plays those despicable relatives: all eight of them, men and women.

The musical by Robert L. Freedman (book and lyrics) and Steven Lutvak (music and lyrics) centers on a English man named Monty who discovers he’s ninth in line to inherit an earldom.

All that stands between him and that aristocratic title are those eight pesky relatives.

The actor playing the eight characters faces one of the most daunting tasks in musical theater.

Rapson, speaking on the phone from a tour stop in St. Louis, said he relishes the roles.

“It’s challenging, but it’s also the most fun I’ve ever had on stage,” said Rapson, whose Broadway credits include understudying the roles of Javert and Thenardier in “Les Miserables.”

“It’s the only show I can think of that allows me to use every tool in my comedic tool belt,” Rapson added. “It’s been the blessing of my professional life.”

The show, with an 11-member cast, is noted for its spirited music and clever lyrics.

“From the first time I saw it, I was in love with it: the way the story is told, the humor, the perfect mixture of high-brow and low-brow comedy, the incredible score,” Rapson said. “It represents everything I love about what musical theater can do.”

Tour-de-force acting

“A Gentleman’s Guide” features two tour-de-force acting performances. In addition to Rapson, Kevin Massey, who plays Monty, sings many of the songs and almost never leaves the stage.

“We have to hide water bottles on stage for me,” Massey said, also speaking by phone from St. Louis. “It’s a role that definitely requires some stamina.”

Massey agrees with Rapson: For a killer, Monty is a very likeable guy who cleverly claws his way to an earldom as he tries to win the heart of a beautiful woman.

“The way the show is written, you root for Monty and you’re delighted at the creative ways he ‘offs’ the next person,” Massey said. “It's one of the best nights in theater you can have. I’ve heard that consistently from people. It’s a fantastic piece of theater.”

Massey, who played Monty on Broadway, has been with the national tour since it launched a year ago.

“It’s been wonderful, one of those roles that comes along only rarely,” Massey said.

Massey, who grew up Black Mountain, N.C., a 75-minute drive from Greenville, didn’t plan to become an actor. In elementary school, he acted in a few plays but later majored in pre-med at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

On a whim, he decided to go to New York City and try his luck at acting. That was 15 years ago. Since that time, Massey has lived in New York and made his living as a professional actor.

The original Broadway production of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” won four 2014 Tony Awards, including for Best Musical.

The show is appropriate for ages 10 and older.

For the latest in local arts news and reviews, follow Paul Hyde on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde.

YOU CAN GO

What: “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Peace Center Concert Hall

Tickets: $25 to $85

Information: 864-467-3000 or www.peacecenter.org