Theater review: Something's Afoot! at SART
Something’s Afoot! bears the description “a murder mystery musical comedy,” but the show’s emphasis is comedy first, musical second, with “murder mystery” reduced to just an excuse for the silliness.
The production at SART in Mars Hill is at its best in the clever musical numbers. It’s quite funny if you’re in the right mood, and the audience certainly was Friday night. The show is a spoof inspired by Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None,” in which guests and servants at an isolated country estate are murdered one by one. It’s been around since the early 1970s, and although a Broadway run in 1976 was not a success, the show has been a staple of regional and community theaters ever since, and it plays best in an intimate space like Mars Hill University’s Owen Theatre.
Something’s Afoot! requires a big, diverse and game cast, and SART has exactly that, led by a faux-serious Pem Price Tomaselli as Miss Tweed, the painter and amateur detective who’s always on the wrong track and ably leads several of the songs, including the smile-inducing “I Owe It All (to Agatha Christie)” in Act Two.
Also happily showcased are the ample musical talents of the effervescent Shannon Dionne, who kicks off the show with “A Marvelous Weekend” and has two catchy love songs directed at or sung with the charismatic Steven Isaac Rice: “I Don’t Know Why I Trust You (But I Do)” in Act One and “You Fell Out of the Sky” in Act Two.
The two funniest solos belong to Peter Tamm, who plays Lady Grace Manley-Prowde in drag, and Maximilian Koger as Nigel Rancour, the nephew of Lord Rancour, the never-seen host for this weekend in the country. Tamm slinks around the set and the onstage piano hilariously for “The Man With the Ginger Mustache,” while Koger has fun playing up his nasty nephew role in “The Rightful Heir.”
The show’s biggest laugh-getter may be “Problematical Solution (The Dinghy Song),” sung by Shane Dinan, as estate caretaker Flint, and Natalie Brouwer, as “saucy maid” Lettie, They give it a fine, winking performance. The tune is ostensibly about a boat needed to escape the flooded English estate where the show takes place, but the lyrics suggest another meaning: “I’ve got a teeny little dinghy for you to see / But my teeny little dinghy’s big enough for you and me.” You get the idea.
The standout comedian among the less-musical roles is no doubt Mario Pando as Col. Gilweather, who has a host of comic facial expressions, vocalizations and tics he uses to fine, exaggerated effect. Amelia Wilds makes a dandy stiff-upper-lip butler, Clive, while Timothy Wilds embodies the lackadaisical country Dr. Grayburn.
The full-company numbers — the title song and the closing numbers of each act — are entertainingly choreographed by Anthony Romeo, whose best work may be the “You Fell Out of the Sky” pas de deux. The most amusing dancing, though, comes in “Carry On,” an anthem expressing female power with antique spears in Act One, complete with kick line.
The joys of Something’s Afoot! are simple, but the staging is complex, with special effects, hidden openings in the set and much dragging of dead bodies. Director Amanda Sayles somehow has it all figured out, though, and the pacing is rapid, the performances broad without being too ridiculous.
The elaborate and eye-pleasing set is by Richard Seagle, the many props by Brianna Brunner and the spiffy Christie-inspired costumes by Jenny Webb. Friday’s performance had its glitches — flickering lights, a hat that kept falling off, some dropped lines — but the momentum was never lost. I found some of the lighting cues in Act Two that bathed the darkened set with red quite distracting, but I couldn’t tell whether it might have looked better had the lights not been malfunctioning. The sound, by Cassidy Robbins, was sharp.
Kudos also to music director Stephen Purdy, an unofficial cast member at his onstage piano. He keeps the tone bright and the songs energetic and even has few comic moments of his own. The four-person stage managing team — Tia Turner, Cory Walters, Tristan Brown, and Brianna Brunner — takes a well-earned bow with the curtain call for all the work they’ve done backstage to keep the show powering forward.
At intermission, one theatergoer quipped benevolently, “Well, it’s not Sondheim,” and, of course, it isn’t. The plot is superficial and the solution to the murder is as ridiculous as everything else that has gone on. The songs are witty and engaging but probably not music you’ll be streaming back at home. No, it’s not Sondheim. But it is what theatergoers should want and expect out of a regional theater — an amusing night out with a good time had by all, on and off the stage.
Something’s Afoot! runs through July 21. For details and tickets, visit sartplays.com.
(Photos by Cheyenne Dancy, courtesy of SART)