In the Tony-winning musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, a young man discovers a long-held secret after his mother passes away: He comes from a family of aristocrats, the D’Ysquiths, who are all before him in the line of succession to assume an earldom. While the show tells the comical story of the character’s sneaky methods to get what he wants, the biggest secret might be happening behind the scenes in the Florida Studio Theatre costume shop.
“Originally, Alec Guinness played all the characters of the D’Ysquith family in the movie [Kind Hearts and Coronets],” Florida Studio Theatre costume shop manager Adrienne Webber says. “It’s a lot easier to do that in a movie; there are no quick changes.”
With nine costume changes for one actor, Richard Henry (who, like Guinness, will play all eight members of the D’Ysquith family), the musical adaptation, onstage here Nov. 7 through Dec. 30, doesn’t have the help of movie magic.
“It’s a wonderful device that shows acting versatility to play all of these parts,” Webber says. “But it’s a careful choreography.”
Webber spent weeks researching other musical adaptations of the story and plotting the movement of this actor on the FST stage, where one costume change will need to happen in as little as 19 seconds. She’s assembled eight individual costumes (designed by Linda Cho), with each requiring extreme detail, including a hunting outfit, a reverend’s clerical garb, and attire for a philanthropist who dons a new, extravagant headdress each time the audience sees her.
Zippers have been placed in the back of outfits that have been sewn together. As the audience watches the show, a team of dressers will form an assembly line backstage, zipping up costumes placed on chairs (never hung, to spare precious seconds) before sending the actor out. Additional dressers will be backstage for the other character costumes that Webber is also responsible for.
The process of creating these costumes took four weeks; the work began before making costumes for other shows scheduled to debut sooner. With the amount of painstaking effort that’s been put into this production, the audience is in for a treat.
As for Webber, she won’t have time to enjoy the fruits of her labor.
“I’ll be working on new costumes needed for other plays,” she says. “The show must go on.”
For tickets to A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, call 366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org.