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Local Actor Matthew Willingham Takes on a Family of Eight in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder”

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The Footlight Players will present A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, the final show of their current 90th season at the Queen Street Playhouse beginning on Friday, April 22nd. Actor Matthew Willingham will take on the famous eight roles of the same doomed family in this musical comedy. 

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is described as “the knock-’em-dead, uproarious hit and was the most-nominated show of the 2014 season.” The show earned ten Tony nominations, winning four – Best Musical, Book, Direction and Costumes – and earned seven Drama Desk Awards (including Best Musical), four Outer Critics Circle Awards (including Best Musical), and one Drama League Award (Best Musical).

When the low-born Monty Navarro finds out that he’s eighth in line for an earldom in the lofty D’Ysquith family, he figures his chances of outliving his predecessors are slight and sets off down a far more ghoulish path. Can he knock off his unsuspecting relatives without being caught and become the ninth Earl of Highhurst? And what of love? Because murder isn’t the only thing on Monty’s mind….

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is a murderous romp filled with unforgettable music, non-stop laughs and a scene-stealing role for one actor playing all eight of the doomed heirs who meet their ends in the most creative and side-splitting ways. This is a must-produce for any theatre looking for a truly original and fresh new comedy that will delight audiences and leave them begging for more.

Willingham last graced the Queen Street Playhouse this season as the fierce and fabulous Sylvia St. Croix in Footlight Players’ acclaimed production of Ruthless! The Musical. In A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, the current Charleston City Paper Best of Charleston Best Actor nominee takes on an entire family of characters, playing all 8 members of the ill-fated D’Ysquith family

The Footlight Players recently sat down with Willingham to find out more about the man behind the masks. The group provided the interview to Holy City Sinner.

Q: You’ve been a big part of Footlight’s Season 90 this year starting with Ruthless! as the fabulous Sylvia St. Croix, served up some delicious drag looks backstage as part of Georgia McBride and now you’re the star of Gentleman’s Guide, tell us a little bit about your experiences the characters you have played this season. 

A: I am so grateful for the opportunities that Footlight has given me this season! Ruthless! is hands down one of my favorite theatre experiences I’ve had. It was my first time back on stage in 3 years and was just so much fun to play a big, brassy, boisterous bitch like Sylvia! When I was a baby gay I used to recreate Patti LuPone’s 2008 Tony  Award performance of Everything’s Coming Up Roses in my bedroom and I basically got to do that for an  audience 3 times a week for 3 weekends. It was so rewarding.  

Gentleman’s Guide is a beast of a show. I play 8 very different characters and there are moments where I walk  off stage and turn into someone else with less than 30 seconds to change. The entire cast and production  team has been incredibly supportive through the process and I can’t wait for audiences to laugh out loud. 

Q: It’s clear from this season you have a real knack for campy comedy and are known for your  reverence for old school comedy and musical icons through your fabulous Instagram posts. Have any  of them become your muses for your characters in Gentleman’s Guide and if so, do tell!  

A: Sort of! I try to sneak in some of Liza Minnelli’s manner of speaking into Lord Ezekiel and I do an  exaggerated Bette Davis saunter across the stage for the 45 seconds that I’m Lady Salome. 

Q: You play 8 members of the same family in Gentleman’s Guide of various ages, genders and  personalities. Do you have a favorite family member to play and why? 

A: I have three: Lord Adalbert, Henry, and Lady Hyacinth. Lord Adalbert because he’s a big, hulking, brute of a  man, the complete opposite of myself. Henry because he’s a silly, sissy, closet case and Lady Hyacinth  because she has such a fun song, and my fabulous costume of course! 

Q: You’re a Charleston City Paper Best of 2022 Best Actor nominee for your role in Ruthless!, what  advice do you have for those aspiring young actors dying to don some gorgeous dresses and own the stage like a boss? 

A: ‘Forget’ the haters. When I was in middle and high school, I did not know anyone else that shared my love and admiration for old show queens and classic movies. There were times where I felt alone and like some sort of weird, queer freak (which I was). From what I can tell, kids today are growing up more accepting and understanding of people who are “different” but there are still nay-sayers out there. Stay weird, stay queer, because your quirks make you special and will open up doors for you that you didn’t know existed. The door will open to a glimmer curtain with a spotlight waiting for you on the other side. Matthew (center) in Ruthless! The Musical

Q: Patti LuiPone, Liza Minelli or Judi Dench? You get to have cocktails with just one and one question. Who is it, why and what’s the question? 

Patti LuPone, hands down. As I’m typing this out I’m actually listening to her 1993 Live Concert album. I  discovered Patti in middle school and was instantly drawn to her performance style, that distinct voice, and her confidence. Plus she just seems like such a fun person to hang out with and shoot the shit with. Just one  question? I would ask her if I could live in her basement. 

Matthew can be seen on stage at the QSP starting April 22nd in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. 

Tickets and more info at: footlightplayers.net or 843-722-4487 

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