SALT LAKE CITY — The spring-loaded stage feels ready to snap. The chandelier hanging from a taught rope, spears mounted on the wall, and suit of armor guarding the back wall had me imagining how the cast would be picked off throughout the show.
Something’s Afoot was on the audience ballot for Pioneer Theatre Company’s season two years in a row, and I’m a little thrilled it’s finally on their stage. It’s a murder mystery musical that spoofs detective stories made famous by the likes of Agatha Christie. A cast of characters is introduced through the opening number, and it’s up to the audience to guess who will die first and by what means.
It’s rare to find a show that hits the script, music, and execution out of the park. This show gets high honors for two out of the three. The script is a joy. Deep? Not so much. Fun? Definitely. The music itself is a little old fashioned but executed extremely well by this talented cast of actors. That is where Pioneer really excels. These fine performers bring solid characters to each role that being a texture and delight to otherwise shallow and uninspired lyrics (written by James McDonald, David Vos, and Robert Gerlach).
Tia Speros as the elderly amateur detective Miss Tweed brings some spunk to the role. Miss Tweed is no Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote. No, this detective is meant to be seen onstage on a Saturday night, not during some rerun Saturday afternoon. Audiences are certain to find her likeable when she introduces the premise for the show in the title song “Something’s Afoot” and rallying the troops in “Carry On.”
Paul Castree as Flint, and Kate Marilley as Lettie bring a brute and colorful element to the cast as the caretaker and maid. Their bawdy interpretation of “Problematical Solution (The Dinghy Song)” had the Blue Hairs blushing around me and more than one audience member on my way out noted that was their favorite from the night.
The plot surrounding Hope Langdon, played by Laura Hall, wasn’t obvious from the start, and so provided a nice moment for patrons to think ahead and figure out the relationships before they were revealed. Hall’s performance was quite genuine, as one would hope from the ingenue, and stayed within just the right measure of melodrama. The same compliment is due to Rebecca Watson, as Lady Grace, and James Judy, as Colonel Meriweather.
The acrobatic stylings of Joseph Medeiros as Nigel Rancour surprised me during “I Know What I’m Looking For” and reminded me a little of Donald O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh” from Singing in the Rain, though admittedly Medeiros was more conniving.
The book, music and lyrics were written by James McDonald, David Vos, and Robert Gerlach (with Ed Linderman also writing some of the music). To their credit my primary disappointment for the evening was that just as I began to like a character, the character would die. And the manner in which they died? While at times outlandish, the methods could not have been better served than what was done by the production team at Pioneer.
Director Karen Azenberg clearly understands the fun behind this show and deftly avoids all the pitfalls one might make with this show. Characters were clear, timing was exact, and the pacing was skilled.
Scenic designer George Maxwell impressed me again with a set that feels ready to swallow the cast whole. I loved looking around and imagining what new trap would befall the actors. Phil Monat‘s lighting design further accented the shadows onstage. His use of red and green added a lightly macabre feeling to the vaudevillian numbers of “Something’s Afoot” and “Suspicious.”
All in all, it’s a delightful show. Suited for the whole family, kids and grandparents alike will enjoy this introduction to Pioneer’s season.