WEST VALLEY CITY — Ever since Rian Johnson gave the world his hit film Knives Out, mysteries have been in vogue in the cinema and on stage. But this love of mysteries is not new with the genre selling scores of books, films, television programs and theater for many years. One such influential film is 1985’s Clue which has become a cult classic and inspired loads of imitators and both a stage play and stage musical. Currently playing at West Valley Arts Center, the stage adaptation of Clue is an energetic and funny piece of mystery theater that the whole family can enjoy.
The script for the stage adaptation of Clue (written by Sandy Rustin, with additional material by Hunter Foster and Eric Price) introduces its audience to an eccentric group of misfits who have all been invited to a dinner party with a mysterious host named Mr. Body. Each guest has an alias and receives a gift of a murder weapon after arriving at the house. What unfolds afterwards is a whodunit that plays out (just as in the board game and movie), that keeps its audience constantly guessing. The show build suspense as the story progresses, and the red herrings make each character a convincing suspect. The movie had several endings (which required audiences to attend the movie multiple times to see all the different endings), but the play cleverly presents all of the options for solving the crime in the final 20 minutes of the show. However, audience members do not need to have seen the movie to appreciate this stage version. It completely stands on its own. There are some fun Easter eggs for fans of both the movie and game, however. There is even a surprise appearance of the game board in one scene.
The greatest strength of Clue lies in its characters. The whole cast of Clue at the West Valley Performing Arts Center is perfect for this material, and no one on stage is afraid to bring a bit of camp into their performances and push the envelope to get a laugh. BJ Whimpey leads the group as the snobby but suspicious butler Wadsworth. His performance is animated, often throwing his hands in the air and leading the cast frantically from one room to another in the mansion, thereby leaning into the comedy any way he can. Other standouts include Jayne Luke as Mrs. Peacock and Tyson Baker as Colonel Mustard, both of whom brought out the comedy in their roles with big, vibrant performances. Colton Hattabaugh seems to have a great time playing the gay Mr. Green, and Daysha Lassiter is fantastic as Miss Scarlet. I appreciated how open West Valley Arts is so open in its casting. Director Joseph Ernst was not constrained by the appearance, age, or race of the actors in the 1985 film; instead, he assembled a wonderful diverse group.
Ernst keep the story moving briskly for 90 minutes (with no intermission) and the audience engaged. Creative movement (especially when transitioning between the endings), full use of the space and levels in the theater, and the eerie use of lighting immerse the audience in each moment of the whodunit. This makes Clue a fun choice for introducing children to the theater and to the concept of the murder mystery.
The show features some original music by Michael Holland, but it is not a musical. Nevertheless, the music and sound effects (with sound design by Grace Heinz) are integrated well into the story and help enhance the physical comedy in many scenes. For example, in a scene where the characters “rewind” a scene to replay the different endings, the zany music and sound effects add to the antics. The costumes by Kelsey Nichols also help the audience to quickly get to know each character and their personalities. Mrs Peacock, for instance, is in a formal blue dress with a broach and necklaces, signaling that she is well off and likes to make a statement when entering the room.
The playbill for Clue promises a “dark and stormy night,” and that is just what the audience gets. West Valley Arts creates a convincing atmosphere for a classic whodunit in a spooky old house. Ernst and and his cast amply meet the challenges of the script and give the audience a delightful night of mystery and hilarity. No one should miss their chance to see this engaging mystery right here in West Valley. It is a family friendly show, and with the theater-in-the-round staging, there is not a bad seat in the house.