BWW Review: Music, Murder, and Mystery in SOMETHING'S AFOOT
Book, Music, and Lyrics by James McDonald, David Vos, & Robert Gerlach; Additional Music by Ed Linderman; Directed by Caitlin Lowans; Musical Direction by Bethany Aiken; Choreography, Ceit Zweil; Scenic Design, Jenna McFarland Lord; Costume Design, Gail Astrid Buckley; Lighting Design, David Wilson; Sound Design, David Reiffel; Props Master, Georgina Kayes; Production Stage Manager, Margaret Kayes
Performances through March 23 at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main Street, Stoneham, MA; Box Office 781-279-2200 or www.stonehamtheatre.org
A cast of Stoneham Theatre favorites is not all that is familiar about Something's Afoot, a musical murder mystery comedy that spoofs some well-known whodunits. While paying homage to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, it might be appropriate for James McDonald, David Vos, and Robert Gerlach to also pay her royalties. However, since imitation is the highest form of flattery, perhaps the Christie estate has overlooked the obvious similarities and decided to let the musical version go its merry way. And it does roll along merrily, if violently, in the hands of this talented ensemble.
Set in the remote country estate of Lord Dudley Rancour, three servants prepare for the arrival of six guests who are purportedly strangers to each other. Of course, it will be a dark and stormy night and the host is nowhere to be found, until he is found dead. His is only the first in a series of mysterious deaths, so we only get to enjoy the work of some of these actors for a very short time, until the grim reaper comes for the next one. The stock British characters include: Miss Tweed (Margaret Ann Brady), who fancies herself an amateur sleuth; the Cockney caretaker Flint (John Davin); the family physician Dr. Grayburn (Russell Garrett); Hope Langdon (Stephanie Granade), the ingénue; the black sheep nephew Nigel Rancour (Mark Linehan) who sees himself as the Lord's rightful heir; Geoffrey (Andrew Oberstein), an uninvited guest who invites suspicion; Lady Grace Manley-Prowe (Kathy St. George), a classy lady with a shadowy past; Clive (Nick Sulfaro), the butler who didn't do it; the old army man Col. Gillweather (J.T. Turner); and the saucy maid Lettie (Ceit Zweil).
Director Caitlin Lowans manages to maintain order amidst the chaos of the plot and uses all areas of the two-tiered set, drawing our eyes to the right place at the right time. She could tighten the reins to lower the camp factor that occasionally becomes excessive; perhaps because her character gets to stick around for awhile, Brady gets carried away before she gets carted away. Linehan finds the right tone as the proverbial mustache-twirler, and Turner, in his Stoneham debut, has the appropriate, full-of-himself bluster and stiff upper lip. St. George, never one to disappoint, owns her moment in the spotlight when she serenades the swooning Turner ("The Man With the Ginger Mustache").
Something's Afoot premiered in Atlanta in 1972 and had numerous regional productions before a brief stint (61 performances) on Broadway in 1976. It fared better the following year in London running for 232 performances and being nominated for an Olivier Award as Best Musical. The Showtime network broadcast its version in 1984 with the inimitable Jean Stapleton as Miss Tweed and Andy Gibb (!) as Geoffrey. You can actually see it in its entirety on YouTube. Having glanced at the video, I can report that the Stoneham Theatre design team's efforts are a match for Showtime's deep pockets with the evocative set by Jenna McFarland Lord, the period costumes by Gail Astrid Buckley, and dramatic effects added by lighting designer David Wilson and sound designer David Reiffel.
Where the two vastly differ are in the musical instrument category; the video features a live orchestra of some (unknown) heft, while Music Director Bethany Aiken accompanies the cast on solo piano from her onstage perch. She is very good, even appearing in character and costume, but the sound lacks fullness and creates the feeling of being in a rehearsal hall. To their credit, the actors all have great voices (Granade, in particular, is an appealing songbird) and deliver the songs with brio, although the score is uneven. In addition to wearing the maid's cap, Zweil doubles as choreographer and some of her routines for the whole troupe are overly busy, but the smaller dances for two or three characters work better. The energy and commitment of the cast are never in question and they are certainly enjoying themselves. In fact, their enjoyment infects the audience. I just hope it isn't fatal.