Something's Amiss With 'Something's Afoot' At Goodspeed
By FRANK RIZZO
The show: “Something's Afoot” at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam
First Impressions: This leaden musical spoof of an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery may have been popular in the mid-'70s at Goodspeed, inspiring a commercial transfer to Broadway in 1976 but that was then. (Critics killed it; it lasted two months.)
No doubt the appeal of the beloved British Music Hall ham Tessie O'Shea as a Miss Marple-style busybody-sleuth gave that version some lift. But in this questionable revival minus O'Shea, you're left with mediocre songs, lame jokes and staging of the louder/faster variety that make for one poor pudding of a production.
Aren’t you being rather harsh? Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy whodunits. And Agatha Christie plays and others of that genre are widely popular staples in theaters in the provinces on both sides of the Atlantic. But you almost never see them done in New York unless there’s an especially inventive turn, like “Sleuth,” “Deathtrap” or “An Inspector Calls.” Adding a musical component makes it even more challenging for a genre where narrative is inherently complicated and often calls for many characters in duplicitous situations. An especially deft and clever touch is needed, which is lacking here under the direction-choreography of Vince Pesce.
What’s it about? A group of strangers are gathered during a thunderstorm at a remote English manor where the guests are greeted by the discovery of the mysterious death of their host. Soon the invitees (including a dithering doctor, a blustering colonel, a grand dame and a desperate heir), and the estate’s staff, start mysteriously dying or being killed off.
One of the guests -- and the audience’s entre into the show -- is an eccentric amateur detective, Miss Tweed, played by Audrie Neenan, who is badly dressed (her outfit blends into the upholstery), wigged (rather rat-nesty) and cast. Looking a bit like SCTV’s Andrea Martin’s Edith Prickley, Neenan gamely plows on, but the script’s musical schtick is so clearly created for O’Shea, it is an awkward and at times uncomfortable fit.
She gets no help from the lifeless, laugh-less script, credited to James McDonald, David Vos and Robert Gerlach, who also did the music and lyrics. (Ed Linderman is credited with additional music and lyrics.) The jokes are such tired spins on murder-mystery archetypes that you feel they come from a box of Clue.
There is one delicious bit, however, beautifully underplayed (imagine!) by Ed Dixon as the stiff-upper-lipped Colonel Gillweather when he discovers he has only minutes left to live after being stung by a poison dart.
Also Benjamin Eakeley as heir Nigel has a striking voice (if way overplayed) and Alyssa Gagarin as the perplexed ingenue and Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as an uninvited guest were charming in their almost tuneful duet, “I Don’t Know Why I Trust You (But I Do).” Adrian W. Jones’ set is also handsomely rendered.
Who will like it? Indiscriminate Anglophiles. Those who like to know the jokes before they’re spoken.
Who won’t? Those who associate wit, cleverness and style with the genre.
For the kids? Some might be amused by the cartoony nature of the show but the complicated relationships and plot might be confusing.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: Deadly.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot? For some reason, murder-most-foul is best served in a British setting (deep mahogany is always appropriate), class (aristocratic and moneyed) and period (late 19th to mid-20th Century). We don’t think if the grisliness of death when it is served in tweed-cozy environments. We can be removed and be safely delighted in deadly goings-on and the solving of crimes, especially when cleverness is afoot. The twist at the end here isn’t bad, but the audience isn’t invested in the least with this group -- or in this production.
The Basics: The show runs through Dec. 9. Running time is 1 hour and 55 minutes, including one intermission. Information: 860-873-8668 and www.goodspeed.org.