While death is inevitable, anxieties about the ordeal can be squelched with plenty of practice--at least onstage. Just ask Richard Henry, the actor who’s making an impression playing all members of the D’Ysquith family in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. The musical comedy has the actor dying over 600 times by the end of the show's run, more than any other actor in history at Florida Studio Theatre's Gompertz Theatre.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder tells the tale of Monty Navarro, a young man who, after the death of his mother, discovers that he’s in the line of succession to assume an earldom. His only obstacles are the other seven members of the D’Ysquish family who are all before him. While Henry’s ability to play all members of the family is noteworthy on its own, frequently eliciting standing ovations from the audience at the end of the performance, the number of deaths he’ll perform in each showing are both record-breaking and amusing to the actor.
“In this piece, the deaths here are much more theatrical,” Henry says. “It’s much more of an over-the-top theatrical death. It’s all suggestive, really. Not so much gore. It wants to remain light and fun.”
Without spoiling too much, viewers can anticipate creative endings to some of these characters, including bee stings, ice-skating mishaps and a beheading. The New York-based actor has overall enjoyed the opportunity to meet death in so many manners; in fact it's informed his opinion on dying itself.
“The way I've died in most shows is definitely not how I want to die in real life," Henry says. "Of course, we don't have that choice. The tackling of death is a major part of why drama exists, because it's about an extraordinary moment in a person's life."
And while enacting a few hundred deaths requires plenty of stamina, it's par for the course for Henry's love of the craft.
“For the actor, and their inner child, it’s fun to die a dramatic death,” Henry says. “When you watch movies, when you invest in a character, you grow to love that character. Taking an audience on that journey is like that. You have to make them love you, and then break their hearts.”
Casualties aside, Henry's performance is what helps bring this musical to life in this Tony-award winner that has found its way in Sarasota. A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder runs at Florida Studio Theatre until Jan. 13. Tickets are available online.