Bodies and laughs pile up in Goodspeed Musical’s “Something’s Afoot”

 By Tony Schillaci and Don Church

If you love theater that makes you laugh out loud, gasp at the variety of hilarious ways a villain does in a victim, figure out who whodunit (fat chance of that happening here) and humming along while tapping your toes through the witty songs and sprightly dances, then “Something’s Afoot” at Goodspeed Musicals is not to be missed.

 

Deliciously performed by an outstanding ensemble of well-cast comedic actors/singers/dancers of all ages, the action all takes place in a typical old English country mansion. Ten strangers are invited to a country weekend and meet in the house during a thunderstorm. The guests disappear one by one -- knocked off by cleverly fiendish devices. The bridge is out, help is not on the way, and the telephone service is deadly. The weekenders are trapped in a whodunit musical that lets us escape into the unbridled silliness and mayhem of the evening.

 

Miss Tweed, in a ‘hats off’ tribute to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, and played with zany seriousness by Audrie Neenan, is the amateur sleuth who takes charge to solve the crimes. All we can tell you is that the butler didn’t do it, because the program swears the audience to secrecy and begs us, “Please do not reveal the Ending.”

 

It’s a light-hearted book, with melodic music and witty lyrics by James McDonald, David Vos & Robert Gerlach, and additional music by Ed Linderman. These clever and funny gentlemen have created a fast paced and wonderfully wacky singing play. It is deftly directed and choreographed by Vince Pesce, who moves the actors up and down stairs, in and out of doorways, and dragged across the mansion’s foyer floor like living -- and dead -- chess pieces on speed.

 

Casey Hushion conceived the current production, which premiered at the Goodspeed Opera House forty years ago. Adrian W. Jones has created a perfect set -- a vast high Victorian atrocity of a mansion’s interior complete with staircase, which, combined with the curtain’s painted exterior view of the house, lends itself to the concept of the perfect place for one or more murders.

 

Costume designer Tracy Christensen must have had fun with this period piece. From the Gilbert and Sullivan-esque uniform of Colonel Gillweather to the grand gowns of Lady Grace, the spirit of 1935 high-society England is captured in colonial medals and elegant filmy cloth. Ed Dixon, who fuffs and huffs with ‘British-Empireness’ as the Colonel, and Lynne Wintersteller as Grande-Dame Grace, are bedecked in exactly the right wardrobe. Tuxedos, ball gowns, maids’ uniforms and rowing-crew costumes round out the other character’s identities.

 

Lighting designer Jason Lyons and sound designer Jay Hilton work their combined magic with thunderstorms, explosions, gunshots and other highly effective visual and sound effects. These are enhanced by the always wonderful Goodspeed orchestra directed by Michael O’Flaherty and assisted by William J. Thomas.

 

The songs in the show, well-orchestrated by Dan DeLange, are fluff pieces totally appropriate for this homage to English country house murder mysteries, which no one can ever take seriously.

 

When bubble-headed innocent Hope (Alyssa Gagarin) trills “A Marvelous Weekend” so sweetly with her lovely voice, and is joined by the rest of the splendid cast in her reverie, it’s clear that the weekend will turn out to be a disaster -- the exact opposite of marvelous.

 

Later, when she and the wide-eyed grinning juvenile, Geoffrey, charmingly created by Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, perform “I Don’t Know Why I Trust You (But I Do)” you realize that this couple -- played with fine comedic timing, dazzling dancing and superb singing -- belong in a mental institution for the criminally saccharin.

 

Benjamin Eakeley as Nigel sings “The Legal Heir” with villainous gusto and exudes smugness and a sinister bent. You can almost feel him twirling his moustache, although he refrains from going that far. Murderous? Maybe.

 

Khris Lewin as Flint the caretaker and Liz Pearce as the saucy maid Lettie deliver a stream of rib-tickling double entendre lines in their “Dinghy” duet. Peter Van Wagner (Dr. Grayburn) keeps his stiff-upper-British lip as he examines one body after another, announcing the probable cause of death, and the elegant Ron Wisniski, with his magnificent voice, is ideal as Clive the towering, very proper English butler, whom everyone agrees ‘didn’t do it.’

 

Audrie Neenan, who, as Miss Tweed, solves the mystery and explains her prowess in a rousing anthem “I Owe It All To Agatha Christie.” Joined by Hope and Geoffrey in this show-stopper, she revels in the fact that she’s finally discovered the murderer. But wait, has she? Have you? Could it be...?

 

We’ve promised not to tell, but do see this deliciously silly romp before December 9, and let us know if you figured it out before the final curtain. We didn’t, but, get it or not, we highly recommend the show to anyone who needs a lot of laughs these days.

 

(Critics On The Aisle saw this show before the official press night, Oct. 24, 2012.)

C 2012. Critics On The Aisle. All Rights Reserved.

If you go:

WHAT: “Something’s Afoot”

WHEN: Now -- December 9, 2012

WHERE: Goodspeed Opera House,

6 Main St., East Haddam, CT

TICKETS: $28 - $74

BY PHONE: 860-873-8668

ONLINE: www.goodspeed.org

 

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