THE LEADING MEN: Jefferson Mays Wears Many Hats (and Boots and Bustles and Coats) in the New Musical A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

By Evan Henerson
12 Mar 2013

Jefferson Mays
Jefferson Mays
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

A quick-changing Jefferson Mays plays an octet of heirs in the new musical comedy A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, now at The Old Globe in San Diego. The Tony Award-winning actor explains them all.


To say that his latest acting assignment requires Jefferson Mays to wear many hats would be clichéd, but also apt. The Tony Award-winning star of I Am My Own Wife and more recently Gore Vidal's The Best Man is a self-described "hat fetishist." Being cast in eight stylized roles in the musical A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder gave Mays the opportunity to indulge that particular mania with a vengeance.

When he showed up at rehearsals for a workshop of the musical at Hartford Stage, Mays arrived with bags full of hats — bowlers, taupe silk hats, tweed cloth cap, even a topper owned by his wife that would be transformed into a beekeeper's hat.

I Am My Own Wife had more than 37 characters, although as Mays notes, every last one of them was "by default wearing that little black dress, string of pearls and head scarf." In Gentleman's Guide, a co-production between Hartford Stage and the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, Mays plays the entire line of the fictionalized D'Ysquith family, working his way up and down the ladder of Edwardian aristocracy from earls to actresses, from musclemen to missionaries.

Monty Navarro (played by Ken Barnett), an illegitimate heir who is ninth in line to the D'Ysquith earldom, sets his sights on improving his position and targets the eight D'Ysquiths ahead of him. Film mavens may recognize Gentlemen's Guide from the 1949 film "Kind Hearts and Coronets," which — like Gentleman's Guide was also inspired by the Roy Harniman novel "Israel Rank." In that film, Alec Guinness played eight roles, but Guinness had days of shooting and multiple takes.

Mays has two and a half hours. Bring on the hats.


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