Shades of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians or And Then There Were None or other well-known murder mysteries! ‘Zounds! This sounds fishy! And it is!
Taproot’s summer musical, Something’s Afoot, has everything a summer musical could have: familiar character types, pleasing harmonies, a plot that keeps you wondering until the end, and a solid cast of actor/singers and musicians.
There’s a whole song where the lead detective-like character, Miss Tweed, sings, “Something’s afoot!” Which might be where writers James McDonald, David Vos and Robert Gerlach got the name. Of course, with that kind of language, you know it’s a British murder mystery spoof.
Servants Clive the butler (Gerald B. Browning), Flint the caretaker (Tim Tully) and Lettie the housemaid (Deanna Sarkar) are getting Rancour Manor (Manour?) ready for an onslaught of visitors, many of whom don’t know why they’ve been invited by Lord Dudley Rancour. But there’s to be a party.
Hope Langdon, the young ingénue (Natalie Anne Moe), is thrilled to be there, and sings about how marvelous the weekend will be as everyone arrives. This sets the tone for the evening, both because we’re introduced to Moe’s lovely soprano, but also because she seems to be the only one singing! It’s a funny device, setting us up for the silliness to come.
Subsequently, Dr. Grayburn (William Hamer) arrives and then Lord Rancour’s nephew, Nigel (Ryan Childers), and Lady Grace Manley-Prowe (Pat Sibley), Col. Gillweather (Dale Bowers), and finally, Miss Tweed (Jenny Cross).
As they get acquainted, while wondering what they are all doing together, a terrible storm causes access to the mainland to be washed out, and they are all stranded. Then, the butler appears to announce both that Lord Rancour is dead (!) and that dinner is served, and is immediately mysteriously murdered by the stair that he’s standing on! Instantly, everyone knows that the butler didn’t do it!
As the guests begin to realize that each could be next, and the bodies start piling up in the library, the mystery deepens. Secrets are revealed, leading the audience to guess how the secrets impact the murdering. As a young stranger (Ian Lindsay) washes ashore (for the ingénue to fall in love with), everyone starts pointing the finger at everyone else, including him.
The cast is great fun to watch and anticipation is high as to who will die next and how. The songs are easy to enjoy. The reason for the murders is a puzzle but not so much that it’s not completely clear by the end. There’s even a happy ending (almost).
Director Scott Nolte and his crack technical crew have put their considerable talents to use in seeding the great set by Mark Lund (who also did sound) with all kinds of booby traps and tricks. Costuming by Sarah Burch Gordon and light effects by Andrew Duff complete the look of the evening. Master musical director Edd Key is unseen, as are his small quartet of players (piano, Debbie Evans, bass, Gordon Tibbits, woodwind, Max Baldonado, percussion, Tai Taitano) who are all under the stage, in a basement area, apparently.
But the biggest triumph of the evening goes to Christy McNeil who creates fun, funny, and compact choreography for that relatively tiny stage, and the cast that performs it. The height of silliness is reached with Ryan Childers’ singing of The Legal Heir, as he somersaults over the sofa deliberately and for no particular reason.
So many areas go so right with this production that it easily becomes the perfect summertime play. It’s a tall drink of ice tea with mint julep on a Southern veranda (with a British accent).
PICTURED ABOVE: Natalie Anne Moe and Jenny Cross.
PHOTO BY: Erik Stuhaug