'Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder'

The cast with Blake Price (far right) as the devilish yet likable character Monty Navarro in a scene from “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.” PHOTO BY JOAN MARCUS

Bass Concert Hall

The main character of “Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder” stays visible and engaged on stage for 95 percent of the show. That means throughout the show's 140 minutes, Monty Navarro remains in plain view of the audience for 133.

It means that the audience gets to witness every costume change, every murder and every love scene. It means that throughout the course of the play, they become intimately complicit in the actions of Monty Navarro. It means that “Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder” takes the level of energy and endurance of its production to a whole new level.

“It means that even the water breaks are choreographed,” said Blake Price, the 23-year-old powerhouse who brings the compellingly charismatic character of Monty Navarro to life.

The premise of the musical is timeless: upon his mother's death, humble Monty learns that he is actually Montague D'Ysquith Navarro, ninth in line to inherit the fortune of the notoriously wealthy and powerful D'Ysquith family. After losing his girlfriend, Sibella to a wealthier man, Monty decides to take action, which of course means killing off the eight long-lost members of the family who stand in the way of his earldom.

But where the seemingly well-tread plot leaves off, the character of Monty surges in, enigmatically engaging and larger than life as he enlists the audience's support in each of his dastardly deeds.

“Monty is fully aware that he's telling this story,” Price said. “He's looking to the audience for help and guidance. He is looking for them to be on his side.”

According to Price, one of the things that wins over the audience is the character's frankness and honesty despite his less-than-savory machinations. “The characters are never lying,” Price explained. “They're never pretending to be anything more than what they are. I think that makes it easier for the audience to digest. They look to Monty for support, like ‘Oh, he's going through this, too.’”

When a show features such a paradoxically magnetic character as Monty Navarro, it only follows that the actor playing him must also possess an extraordinary amount of intensity and charm. You have to cast someone with a great deal of endurance to shoulder the dramatic and comedic weight of Monty Navarro. This is where Broadway Across America newcomer Blake Price comes in.

Price fielded questions for this phone interview from the back of the tour bus, where he had been watching the Oscar-nominated film “The Florida Project” as research for a movie Price is currently writing about his mother. In addition to the movie, Price is also engaged in writing a TV pilot with his roommate based on his family. Price exudes the warmth and conviviality of someone who is interested and excited about being alive. He's genuinely interested and excited about a variety of future creative projects, and is equally articulate in talking about those passions.

“You have to be your own destiny,” Price said, “It's a kind of self-induced passion. It's important to start telling your own stories. It takes kind of humbling yourself and being passionate about a story and getting it out there.”

Through the course of one half-hour conversation, one can easily see how Price's infectious fervor would translate to the stage. He believes in the power of art, and its ability to transcend boundaries between people throughout time and around the world.

“What we do as as performers and artists in general is basically paint the human experience as we are, right now,” Price said. “Art tells the story of today.”

He went on to say that while “Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder” pays homage to stories from an earlier age, the experience of seeing the show is one that remains true and relevant to audiences of today.

“It isn't afraid to be just what it is,” Price said. “The world seems like it might be falling apart at any moment, it feels like we're on the cusp of something huge. The play gives audiences the chance to take a break from the stresses of their own lives and the insanity of the world around them. The show will not allow you to think of something else because there's always something happening.” He laughs and adds. “It keeps you out of your own drama.”

Which, according to Price, is what makes theater – and art in general – so important, especially in times of adversity and strife.

“You need a chance to laugh because we would be nothing without humor,” Price says. “It makes people talk, and that's what we need more of.”

Even if it's a conversation about a character like Monty Navarro, who is undeniably likable despite his blatantly selfserving ambitions? Yes, even then. Especially then.

“We all truly want the same things,” Price said. “We just argue about how we get them. Art is an incredibly good, palatable way to have that discussion.”

Catch Blake Price in "Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder" Tuesday - Friday, March 20-23 at 8 p.m., Saturday, March 24 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 25 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Bass Concert Hall in Austin. Tickets start at $30 and are available at Broadway in Austin's website, Texas Performing Arts' website, the Bass Concert Hall ticket office, all Texas Box Office outlets and by phone at 512-477-6060.

San Marcos Daily Record

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