When Adrienne Eller first saw it, the student at NYU knew she had to make her way to that stage one day.
It was 2013 and Eller was watching “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” on Broadway shortly after it had opened. She was mesmerized by the show that was on its way to the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical.
Two years later Eller finds herself playing Phoebe D’ Ysquith in the national touring company debut.
“When I saw my character Phoebe when she came out on stage she was really funny and youthful and a little clumsy and too earnest and she was singing beautiful soprano songs,” Eller said, recalling the first moment she saw the performance. “I said, ‘That’s the part I want to play.’ After I saw it on Broadway I aspired to be on it. And once it was going out on tour I knew I wanted to audition.”
Eller spoke by phone from Des Moines, Iowa, where the production was making a stop before traveling to Memphis to play The Orpheum Theatre Feb. 9-14. The first national tour for the production has been going strong since September.
The past year probably has been a whirlwind for Eller. She graduated from NYU with a bachelor’s of fine arts in drama with a concentration in musical theater in May 2015. Within four months she was on the road full time. It hasn’t been nonstop work; in fact, the production spent a month in San Francisco over the holidays, a good thing for Eller considering it’s her hometown.
“It’s been absolutely wonderful,” Eller said. “The beauty of the tour for me is it’s the first national tour for the show. Bringing the show to hundreds of thousands who have never seen it, every night it’s fresh. Going on stage and making them laugh and seeing them react to it is fun. … The reaction from city to city has been wonderful.”
Eller describes the production as contemporary but with a lot of charm of a golden age musical. The comedy is built for a contemporary audience.
Set in 1907, Gentleman’s Guide tells the story of Monty Navarro, an heir to a family fortune who sets out to jump the line of succession by eliminating the eight pesky relatives who stand in his way. All the while, he has to juggle his mistress and his fiancée.
And that’s where Eller’s character, Phoebe, comes in.
Phoebe and Monty both find each other physically attractive. They are drawn to each other immediately. When she meets Monty, he’s a sympathetic orphan character in her upper-class eyes.
“He falls in love with her because she’s unlike other women of the time period,” Eller said. “She’s outspoken and longs to say what she feels and wants. She’s not like a cookie-cutter porcelain doll.”
Phoebe reads books and sonnets and is into Charles Dickens, so it makes sense that there is an Oliver Twist quality to the story.
Eller actually leans on that Dickens relationship to get into character before each performance.
“Something I like to do before the show is hold a book of sonnets and start reading one so I can get into what I’ve been doing before I come on stage,” she said, adding that she keeps a copy of “Great Expectations” in her dressing room.
Eller said getting into the character day after day when she has to bring the innocence of not knowing what Phoebe’s journey will be that evening is difficult. But it’s a journey she’s excited to bring to audiences.
“I’m dorkily in love with her,” Eller said. “The characters are really complex and well written. She’s young, naïve and innocent. … For her time she thinks outside the box and wishes the world is different. She’s fun to play. She’s classical, feminine and youthful but’s she’s very interesting and fun. You root for her. In a lot of ways she is like me.”
Of course playing Phoebe is only part of the fun for Eller. Being a traveler is her “day job.”
“It’s different, for sure,” she said. “It’s a new experience for me but a ton of fun because our schedule is light. We have to be at the theater every night around 6:30 or 7 except weekends. So we get the whole day to explore a city. That’s an awesome opportunity to travel and be a tourist. We eat a lot of good food and have fun trips and excursions.”
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” opens in Memphis Tuesday, Feb. 9. Performances are Feb. 9-11 at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Feb. 12, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 13, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 14, at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Tickets are $25 to $125 and can be purchased by calling 901-525-3000 or visiting the box office at 203 S. Main St. in Downtown Memphis.