There is something deliciously appealing about a whodunit, especially in the right hands, and Something's Afoot found the right hands in the skilled people at Pioneer Theatre Company in a production serving as the theater's fall opener.
Directed and choreographed by Pioneer's second-year Artistic Director Karen Azenberg, Something's Afoot is a lighthearted farce, a musical comedy and homage to masters of the form like Agatha Christie, whose And Then There Were None clearly inspired the story of this show.
The setup is classic: Six guests are called to a mansion in the English countryside in late spring of 1935 by one Lord Dudley Rancour. None of them realize there will be other guests, nor do they know Rancour's relationship to the others. Among them are a bloviating old soldier, Colonel Gillweather (James Judy)--who will remind you of Clue's Colonel Mustard--along with the suspicious mystery buff Miss Tweed (Tia Speros), a wide-eyed young woman Hope Langdon (Laura Hall) and a shady-seeming nephew Nigel Rancour (Joseph Medeiros), as well as Dr. Grayburn (Richie Call) and the distinguished Lady Manley-Prowe Rebecca Watson).
Alongside the mansion's servants Lettie the maid (Kate Marilley), Clive the butler (Jaron Barney) and handyman Flint (Paul Castree), the guests discover that their host has been murdered in one of the upstairs bedrooms, and Clive is dispatched with an exploding staircase as he calls the guests to dinner, a turn of events that leads to one of the better songs of the show, "Something's Afoot," that opens up all the guests to suspicion because "the butler didn't do it."
One by one the guests are picked off via ever-more-creative means, including a gas-spewing telephone, a random electrocution, and slow-working poison, among others. Each of the murders is a means to combine laughs, some strong vocal performances and a period piece that plays off the stereotypes the audience comes to the show holding already.
It's all good fun, and delivered with strong performances by a cast heavy on new faces to Pioneer, particularly Speros as Miss Tweed, Will Ray as Geoffrey, a college student washed ashore near the mansion who at first is suspected to be the killer, only to be found innocent and fall in love with Hope.
It's all light and fluffy fun that fans of whodunits should enjoy--particularly if they can go with the flow of the comedy and not think too much about who actually done it. The country mansion set is stunning, the costumes fitting and the special effects relatively ornate, thanks to explosions, lightning and electrocution sparks flying through the air.
Miss Tweed early on lists the various typical motives for murder, including revenge, passion, lust and greed, and it's fun to watch Something's Afoot touch on every one along its path.
Something's Afoot runs at Pioneer Memorial Theatre through October 5. Tickets and show information is available at the theater's website.