SANDY — Even before the show begins, Clue at Hale Centre Theatre has an impact. The grandiose two story mansion set on the Sorensen Legacy Jewel Box stage was accompanied by projections of a night sky behind windows cut into the set. As the start of the show drew closer, a projected rainstorm, enhanced with lighting and sound effects, grew more intense and created an ambiance in the theatre to set the stage for the stormy night at Boddy Manor where Clue takes place. This was the kind of preshow ambiance that comes with waiting in line at Disneyland for the Haunted Mansion or Enchanted Tiki Room. A live organist, Ann Christensen, played on the upper level of the set throughout the show to add an exciting live element. It was theatrical in all the best ways and a gripping introduction.
Clue, adapted by Sandy Ruskin (with additional material by Hunter Foster and Eric Price) from the 1985 black comedy film of the same name, is a murder mystery romp featuring characters and story elements from the Parker Brothers game. As Dave Tinney’s director’s note so aptly puts it, “this is art imitating art imitating art imitating art imitating life imitating…well…death.” The film is a cult classic, and the stage adaptation has been performed to great effect across the state in secondary schools and had strong runs at West Valley Arts, the Orem Hale, and Utah Shakespeare Festival in the recent past.
I was impressed by the Tinney’s decision to allow comedic moments to land in the show. The maid, Yvette (played by Corinne Adair), enters the space and is listening to a news broadcast about McCarthyism taking hold in the United States. Adair took her time in the stage watching the news broadcast as a strange man quietly entered the space behind her to surprise her. It was an unrushed, tense moment with a comedic payoff that foreshadowed the style of the rest of the show followed suit. In the dinner scene where the party guests eat Mrs. Peacock’s favorite shark fin soup, several moments were allowed to simply play out to great effect. Jayne Luke as Mrs. Peacock gratuitously slurped the soup, and it was hilarious. I had seen Luke thrive doing physical comedy in the same role at West Valley Arts, and I loved how this performance was more engaged with word play and vocal comedy. Her range is strong, even within the same character. There were also several prolonged dead spaces between lines that initially felt like dropped lines, but the intense stares between characters made it clear the actors were playing the pauses for laughs. All of this was done while keeping the show under two hours, and made it a delightful romp from start to finish. I credit Tinney with finding strong moments for the actors to play at varied tempos and to keep the show rolling.
Clue is still lacking polish that will undoubtedly come as the production runs over the next three months. Certain jokes are timed to lighting or sound cues that were not quite sharp enough. There is a gag where body doubles of Miss Scarlet (played by Erin Royall Carlson) and Colonel Mustard (played by Sanford Porter) are exploring the room where an unexpected guest has been killed. The bit plays on the audience’s suspended disbelief that a door stage right opens out of the lounge and a door across the stage is the exit point. The body doubles are to exit as the main actors enter, but the gag’s timing was goofed, and both sets of actors were on stage for several seconds. In another section, Colonel Mustard tells Miss Scarlet, “You go first,” when she has already gone ahead of him. Several of these bits, lines, and technical moments had timing that just missed, but the errors played into the chaotic nature of the show and will likely be ironed out as the run progresses.
Alex King played the butler Wadsworth, giving a performance that was, overall, very strong. Attempting to land the same jokes as Tim Curry is always a difficult task, but King found moments to make his own. Wadsworth always has a protracted death in the show’s end, but King found ways to engage in hilarious ways I had never seen, such as telling Miss Scarlet that he “really did give a damn.” In the scene where the police officer arrives unexpectedly, King leads the party guests in an impromptu chorus of “ummms” and sings his way to the library to the tune of “That’s Amore.” King’s frenetic energy pushed through bumpy moments and allowed the cast to continue strong play.
While each of the leads brought solid performances, I was especially amused by much of Mack’s portrayal of Mrs. White. The film version features a subdued Mrs. White until her iconic “flames on the side of my face” bit that plays a nice contrast to the other characters. Mack’s portrayal inverted this expectation fabulously. Much of her performance reminded me of her strong portrayal of Ursula in HCT’s The Little Mermaid in 2022, as she exuded much of the same charisma. Mack’s Mrs. White was expressive and emphatic each time she was snubbed by Yvette. Mack was not subtle, and it was a bold choice that succeeded.
At first, I thought that (for the second time this week) I was seeing a homosexual character portrayed by an actor who does not play with the comedic tension of that character. That doesn’t necessarily mean portraying antiquated gay tropes, but In many productions, Mr. Green (played by here by Ben Parkes) shows obvious disinterest in being paired with Yvette to search the house as the other men seem to lust after her. In this production, the adult humor and sexual innuendo was so downplayed that many of the jokes earned polite chuckles — if caught at all — or were simply glossed over. I do not advocate for hypersexualized performances, but in choosing a play with adult jokes, it behooves the theatre makers involved to play the jokes rather than to skate around them.
As always, the technical designs at the Hale were magnificent. Jenn Taylor dazzled with the scenic and costume designs that matched the iconic looks from the film while flattering the actors and fitting the space. Taylor used the rotating set in an eye-catching manner, though some scene changes were functionally slow. There was simple efficacy to the lighting design of Jaron Kent Hermansen made important moments pop, such as impactful weather effects and a gloom that also somehow felt cheerful.
Ultimately, Clue was the best straight comedy I have ever seen Hale Centre Theatre produce. The show was playful and goofy in the right ways. It is not a mystery: for anyone in the mood for a little humor, some intrigue, and a lot of murder, then the trail of clues should lead them buy some tickets now.