Playing select nights through July, 2010.

SANDY — This was my second time attending a Hunt Mysteries show, and they are a 2-for-2 success in my book. Now, mind you, you have to go to a Hunt Mystery with the right mindset. You should probably never go to a play in the upstairs of Spaghetti Mama’s expecting classic theater. You’re not going to be gleaning deep existential truths or viewing incisive character development. The point of Hunt Mysteries is to provide a fun evening. And they do that very, very well.

Upon boarding the cruise ship (i.e. Spaghetti Mama’s), we were met by several members of the cast mingling among the dinner guests. We were met by Julie O’Connor, the ship’s activities director, who scheduled us all for tennis matches; the kind, wealthy, and stupid Hubert Amster and his young and beautiful fiancée Rebecca McKay; Nicholas Rossi, a prodigal playboy; Chastity, the cruise’s gold digging entertainer; and a mysterious woman in black who kept getting into everybody else’s business.

The cast for this sort of play have a special sort of talent. In addition to acting, singing, and a knack for comedy, these actors also have to be able to interact well with the guests. As you might expect in an interactive play like this, some people get really into it whereas other people remain more reserved. The cast did a great job of getting everybody involved – speaking to everyone present and leaving no one out – and then allowing people to participate as much or as little as they chose.

In this particular performance, certain audience members were asked to take a small role in the play. A few audience members were given script cards and got to play the parts of Captain Steve, a letter courier, and a few of Nicholas Rossi’s former flings. Many of the people attending were part of the same large group, and I think this made it particularly fun for them to see their friends “on stage.”

Once we’d all boarded, the real story began. Rivalries and romance, mystery and music, and several well executed references to An Affair to Remember all ensued. We were treated to singing, dancing, and a lot of humor. I was impressed by the knack several of the actors had for humor. I couldn’t get enough of Mary Zullo Brassard (as Julie O’Connor), Tony Porter (as Hubert Sayer), and Heidi Potter (as Chastity). Besides that, I’d rather not give away too much of the story because half the fun is becoming acquainted with the characters’ pasts, aspirations, and . . . motives.

I will admit that the romantic aspect of the story did drag on a bit for me. Perhaps I wanted even more intrigue, or perhaps I wanted more comedy. I think it was really that certain aspects felt forced. Two lovers had parted ways several years before this cruise brought them back together, and the explanation for their separation seemed like an insufficient afterthought.

When the inevitable murder occurred, the audience was given a few minutes to interrogate the cast and try to guess the murderer. The audience was given papers with hints of questions to ask that might help solve the crime. Another great example of involving everyone, the audience was given the chance to get up and go talk to the cast, or (as with everyone at my table) we could stay in our seats and wait for cast members to come to us.

In this particular play, it wasn’t really possible to solve the crime without guessing (In the last Hunt Mystery I saw, solving the crime was very doable, so I’m not sure which is the norm). Only one person in the audience was able to determine the murderer, the weapon, and the motive. All the same, the point of the evening was more the novelty of an evening of humor and music than of the mystery, anyway. So I didn’t really mind.

I’ve gotta hand it to Karyn Tucker, in her first directorial experience with Hunt Mysteries, for pulling off an overall well executed evening. I was impressed by music (music director Anjanette Michelsen) and by all the actors’ vocal talents. The dancing, choreographed by Alisha Williams, was delightful and humorous.

Hats also go off to the staff at Spaghetti Mama’s for providing quick service and remaining unobtrusive. I thought it was noteworthy that I was never distracted from any part of the play by the servers. The only complaint I have about the venue was sound quality. Of course, just like I knew I wouldn’t be treated to Shakespeare, I also knew the place wouldn’t have opera hall acoustics. Still, though, there were times when I couldn’t understand or hear what the actors said. This was mostly noticeable during the musical numbers.

Hunt Mysteries is good, clean fun. The acting is great. The musical talent is evident. The stories are entertaining. While there are flaws, they rarely distract from the experience or the atmosphere. Sure, it’s not classic theater, but it certainly is a good time.

Hunt Myserteries’ A Cruise to Remember: Mystery Afloat has four more performances at various locations in Weber and Salt Lake Counties.  Tickets start at $15.  For exact details on locations, times, and prices, visit the Hunt Mystery Dinner Theater web site.