Play: Something’s Afoot
Group: Insight Theatre Company
Venue: Heagney Theatre at Nerinx Hall, 530 East Lockwood
Dates: August 20, 21, 22, 23
Tickets: From $10-$20; contact 314-556-1293 or www.insighttheatrecompany.com
Story: Lord Dudley Rancour has invited an assorted group of guests to his estate for the weekend in the spring of 1935. His manor happens to be located on an island in the middle of a lake in the English countryside. Wouldn’t you know it, just after the final guest arrives a violent storm erupts, flooding the bridge to the mainland and leaving the visitors captive at the host’s manse. Furthermore, it is soon announced by his butler that Lord Rancour has died in his bedroom.
As the guests introduce themselves to one another, it becomes apparent that all of them have some link to Lord Rancour and his sizable estate. Who will inherit his fortune, and who will actually survive the series of ghastly murders that mercilessly targets them one by one?
Highlights: First produced in 1976, this affectionate valentine to the popular mysteries of Agatha Christie is a whimsical effort penned by James McDonald, David Vos and Robert Gerlach, who collaborated on the book, music and lyrics, with some additional music by Ed Linderman. A two-act musical, it is surprisingly entertaining and engaging stuff, even in the uneven production directed by Maggie Ryan for Insight Theatre.
The musical numbers offer several opportunities for the 10 players to shine individually or in ensemble, and they take good advantage of those moments. Additionally, Lara Teeter’s lively choreography provides numerous high points, allowing the players to flow gracefully in a variety of numbers that fill the stage with entertaining elegance.
Other Info: Ryan has put together a fine cast that revels in the deliberate clichés of the script and play off each other smoothly. Ed Reggi is the primary scene-stealer as the “old Army man” who is so thick he doesn’t even recognize a former flame at first. Reggi milks one particular scene hilariously as his character maintains his stiff upper lip and adherence to discipline in the utmost of predicaments.
Janet Wells is delightful as the “elderly, amateur detective” who alters her opinions about the true killer every 10 minutes or so and sets the tone for the show with the jaunty title tune. Jenni Ryan has fun as “the grande dame,” leading the players in a humorous paean to her gentleman callers titled The Man with the Ginger Moustache, while John Kinney as “the dissoluate nephew” amusingly snarls his way through the Act II opening number, The Legal Heir.
Jordan Reinwald displays a finely honed comic style as Flint, “the caretaker,” exaggerating his reactions to the sundry guests and the deadly situations that keep them anxious. His duet with Colleen Caul as “the saucy maid” on The Dinghy is a droll and campy bit that offers his own solution to the crimes, and Caul herself nicely matches her Cockney accent to the feather-brained servant.
Cara Myler’s beautiful soprano is given full expression on a pair of numbers, one in each act, as “the ingénue,” including a first act bit with Nate McClure, who plays “the juvenile” who unexpectedly joins the invited folks shortly after the storm ensues. Doug Erwin is amusing as the frequently exasperated family doctor and Adam Thenhaus has fun as the officious butler.
Musical director Ross Bell elicits fine work by his musicians, although they often overwhelmed the players at the opening Thursday performance. The capable combo includes pianist/organist Duane Bridgees, Drew Lefkowith on reeds, trumpeter Joshua Williams and percussionist Jeremy Clark. Tori Meyer’s sound design includes an assortment of menacing sounds, Cindy Savage provides a colorful assortment of costumes and James Ryan contributes some clever props to his set design, which is dominated by a looming portrait of the host and some paintings on otherwise oddly austere walls.
The primary problem with the production, though, is its erratic pace. For this particular work to be most successful it requires a brisk style that accentuates the silliness of the characters and the plot. Ryan’s direction too often falls flat at unfortunate moments, resulting in several splendid passages that are diluted when the movement slows to a crawl. The resulting jagged pace makes the overall impact uneven, but there’s enough to enjoy in this little-seen gem to check it out nonetheless.
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.