Each day, Scott Wichmann finds himself channeling multiple personalities. Not in real life, mind you. The sought-after actor is busily preparing for his eight roles in Virginia Rep’s upcoming production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, opening this Friday and running through October 20.
“This show is a good, solid piece of theatre,” he says. “It’s an incredible theatrical experience.”
This Tony Award-winner for Best Musical is a laugh-filled murderous, bawdy romp. In the show the low-born Monty Navarro finds out he’s eighth in line for an earldom in the lofty D’Ysquith family and sets off down a macabre path to claim his future. The only way he can become the ninth Earl of Highhurst is to knock off his unsuspecting relatives.
The show is “darkly comic and very funny,” Wichmann says. “It deals with the delicious and strange ways family members meet their demise. Anything can happen.”
The show is challenging in more than ways than one. The music is complex, mixing British music hall with nods to the works of the Victorian-era dramatist and composer Gilbert and Sullivan.
In the show, Wichmann plays both men and women with costume changes between each character’s on-stage appearance. Costume changes take an average of thirty seconds each. “They are full 360-degree changes – wigs, facial hair, glasses, hats, clothes,” he says. “I have several dressers that are working overtime so we can hit the changes with time to spare. It’s definitely a feat of stagecraft.”
He also has to change the pitch and timber of each character he portrays. “One is more nasally than the others, and one grumbles, for instance,” he says. “It’s about finding different shades of the characters, the voice and the physicality.”
Unlike Wichmann, who darts on and off of stage with each murder, the show’s co-star, Alexander Sapp, is onstage during the entire production. “He doesn’t get a break in the show,” Wichmann says. “Everything that happens is dependent on Alex’s actions.”
One of the most challenging tasks for Wichmann is learning how to conserve his energy each night. “It’s a marathon. The first act particularly is a thrill ride,” he says. “It’s about Scott the actor finding his way through this track. It’s one of the most difficult tracks in musical comedy. I have to meet it head on and find my way through it.”
It’s not just about getting through one performance; it’s about getting through four weeks worth of shows with not a moment wasted in the process.
“Once the show starts, it’s like strapping you into a rocket with no abort button,” Wichmann says. “It’s all about getting yourself in the frame of mind both physically and emotionally so you are ready to blast off.”
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder runs through October 20 at Virginia Rep’s November Theatre. For showtimes and tickets, visit virginiarep.org.