Quick Change: The Magic Behind the Stage

Written by Zhiyun Zhao

Photography by Noah Laroia-Nguyen

The Tony-Award winning musical comedy A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder came to Madison this October. The musical is centered around the life of Morty Navarro, a man who realizes he is the ninth heir in line of Earl of Highhurst. Morty tries to get rid of the other eight heirs in hopes of winning the title as well as the heart of Sibella, the woman he loves. This is definitely not a show that teaches you a moral lesson, but rather a hilarious comedy where the audience is able to enjoy elaborate costumes, mellifluous music and surprising plot twist. But what impressed me the most was how quick costume changes helped the lead actor play every member of the D’Ysquith family.

It didn’t strike me until the third heir came on stage–that’s when I started wondering why all the actors who played the members of D’Ysquith family looked alike. I hesitated on the thought that they could all be one actor because it not only required that actor to play eight heirs and heiresses with diverse personalities, but it also required a large amount of costume and makeup changes in exceedingly short periods of time. However, as it turns out, they were all portrayed by the same talented actor, who nailed all eight characters ranging from an aged clergyman to an adventurous philanthropist, with the help of quick changes of the costumes.

Quick change in theatre has always fascinated me. Theatre is all about make-believe; a story that could last ten years unfolds in two hours on stage. Quick change is one of the elements that makes this magic happen. As for actors, quick change is both a challenging and thrilling part of the show. One second you are walking down the stage calmly and elegantly, and the next you are backstage rushing to your costumes and putting them on as deliberately rehearsed. A few seconds later you appear on stage calmly and elegantly again, but only this time, you are in your new costume, suggesting that you are in a completely different place, time or even character.

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Photography by Noah Laroia-Nguyen

For the audience, quick change worked especially well in this show. Besides allowing actors to switch between roles, it also added an extra layer of hilarity. The silliness of the show largely came from how quick all the heirs and heiress of D’Ysquith’s die one by one in a variety of ways, which means the actor who played the whole family had to switch swiftly from one heir to the next. All the heirs have his or her own distinguishable characteristics. For example, one of the heirs loves bees. He was dressed as a beekeeper when he was killed by his bees. Before the audience recovered from their laughter at his obscure way of death, the actor had already returned to the stage as a woman, the next heiress in line, who wore a stunning dress and held an exquisite umbrella, which brought in another wave of laughter. According to a video about the quick changes of this show, this costume change usually takes less than 30 seconds. But it is long enough to amuse the audience members who realized the visible contrast of the two characters played by the same actor before and after.  

So thanks to quick change, the audience of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder can immerse themselves into the magical theatre world and appreciate how talented actors can be when they  play multiple roles in such a short period of time, while having a night full of laughter.