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Eight is not a crowd for "Gentleman's Guide" lead
John Rapson doesn't just have A part in the touring company of the Tony Award-winning musical "A Gentleman's Guide To Love & Murder."
He has eight.
The Washington, Mich., native and graduate of Stoney Creek High School in Rochester Hills and the University of Michigan plays the D'ysquith family, a collection of Lords, a Reverend and even a couple of Ladys who are part of a fast-paced and funny tale of, as the title indicates, love and murder. It's all laid out by Lord Montague "Monty" D'ysquith Navarro from his jail cell, as he writes his memoirs on the eve of an expected execution in 1909.
And rest assured that execution is the key to Rapson's performance each night.
"It's pretty crazy. There's never a night when I'm going to have an 'easy' show," Rapson, 29, says by phone from St. Louis. "The demands are pretty wacky; There's eight characters and incredibly quick changes, which are sort of another big part of the comedy. I'll get bumped off as one character and come back 20 seconds later as somebody else.
"So it's like a NASCAR pit crew backstage. I come off and somehow I re-enter, immediately, looking like a different person."
And Rapson is pleased to report that despite the tumult, there's never been one major wardrobe malfunction in the just over one year that he's been touring with the production.
"There's been little things here and there, like a character entering wtih one boot on and one normal shoe on, stuff like that," says Rapson, who's pleased to report that he's never killed anybody, either. "Thankfully that's the worst that's happened. And I'm knocking wood as I say this to you. Don't jinx me, man..."
The assorted D'ysquith roles certainly give Rapson a chance to tap many aspects of his theatrical skill set. He caught the bug when he was young, particularly after seeing "the big, spectacular" musicals such as "Les Miserables" at the Fisher Theatre, and "Phantom of the Opera" at the Masonic Temple Auditorium. But the show that had the greatest impact was "Sweeney Todd," which Rapson found, er, bloody good fun when he saw it in Toronto.
"I saw the effect it was having on people. That made me want to do this for a living," he recalls. "The way people were so thrilled by it, and at the same time it could make them laugh at the drop of a hat. Seeing stuff like that inspired me."
During high school Rapson appeared in productions of "My Fair Lady," "The Wizard of OZ" and "Fiddler on the Roof," while his U-M repertoire included "Carousel," playing John Wilkes Booth in "Assassin" and a number of original productions. After graduating in 2009 he joined the touring company of "Les Miserables" playing the inspector Javert, and Rapson was tapped for the Broadway revival of the piece in 2014.
It was during that run that Rapson became a fan of "A Gentleman's Guide...," which won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical. "I'm somebody who tries to see everything on Broadway," says Rapson, who would check out other productions on "Les Miserables" Sundays off. "I saw 'A Gentleman's Guide' three times. Everything else took a back seat. I thought it was so brilliantly put together and so good, everything I Love about performing."
Rapson soon got a chance to audition for the musical and was offered an understudy role which eventually became the full-time lead. "It was an interesting process," he remembers. "Normally you have a chemistry test between your leading lady and leading man; In this case it was between a murderer and multiple victims.
"I credit the creative team and the people who put this together who believed in me and believed in the show enough to think they didn't need a big star in this role. That's pretty phenomenal."
Rapson is currently contracted for another six months with the touring company of "A Gentleman's Guide..." He's thinking a bit about what's next, but the complexities of the assorted D'ysquiths are more than enough to occupy most of his attention these days.
"I'm still trying to have the perfect show -- which is never going to happen," he says with a laugh. "I am not in the least bit tired of doing this year. My body is tired sometimes, but I'm just thankful to have a job that takes up my full brain all the time.
"So I'm happy to keep on dying across the country."
"A Gentleman's Guide To Love & Murder"
The Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd. Detroit.
Tickets are $29-$205.
Call 313-872-1000 or visit broadwayindetroit.com.
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