WHODUNIT...THE MUSICAL(Regional Premiere)
By Ed Dixon
Director – Dennis Yslas
Music Director – H. Richard Gwozdz
Choreographer – Darius-Anthony Robinson
Set Design – Tony Curtis, Roxanne Mather
Lighting Design – Bryan Stevenson
Sound Design – Bill Eichenloff and Ryan C. Mansfield
Costume Design – Emily Warwick
Property Design – Tammie Phillips
Assistant Director/ Stage Manager – Cessany Ford
Carrie Innes – Nancy Lamb
Liddy Allen – Jacque Campbell
Thomas Johnson – Mike Hathaway
Sally Innes – Diane Powell
Jack Bailey – Joshua Sherman
Detective Jarvis – Michael D. Durington
Zara, the Groundskeeper – Mersham Jacques
A Mysterious Stranger – John Thomaway
Reviewed Performance: 9/12/2014
Reviewed by Larry Ukolowicz, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The murder mystery musical includes all the elements necessary to confuse the audience and keep them guessing – a wealthy spinster, a cockney maid, an old butler, a beautiful niece, a young man, a suspicious groundskeeper, a hard-boiled detective, assorted gunshots and one dead body, or maybe more. This clever campy script crosses multiple theatrical genres and spins its bold, farcical tale around a classic Agatha Christie-style murder mystery.
Thanks to Dixon, there are some delicious one liners and he often gives the performers mouths-full of lyrics at times, occasionally drifting into Gilbert and Sullivan or even Sondheim territory. The strength of the musical emerges more in the solid, boldly drawn characters and simple, time-honored story. The show includes 17 numbers and they move the story right along and offer plenty of laughs in themselves.
The set, by Tony Curtis and Roxanne Mather, was beautifully designed with a grand staircase that became the foundation for much of the action and musical numbers. The walls were papered in a majestic green print with the floor a worn wood. The furniture was antique-ish Victorian lending a grandness of sorts to the room. Lights by Bryan Stevenson and sound by Bill Eichenloff and Ryan C. Mansfield added to the mystery as lights flickered, thunder resounded and gun shots rang throughout the theatre in perfect harmony. A perfect setting for a murder!
Costumes by Emily Warwick were era 1931 perfect. Butler Thomas was in full-tailed uniform with starched shirt and French cuffs. The wealthy Carrie and niece Sally were in lovely below the knee floral and satin dresses accented with pearls around the neck. Maid Liddy was in cap and white uniform. The lovely Zara was the hit of the evening in a flowered hat with blue veil attached covering her face and wearing a beautifully designed gypsy outfit that flowed as she practically floated across the stage. (You’ll have to see the show to see what I mean.)
Director, Dennis Yslas cast a very good show with very talented people. Act One dragged a bit. Could it have been opening night jitters? However, Act Two saved the night with hit and run energy. Still, the production was beautifully staged and the cast was exciting.
Nancy Lamb portrayed Carrie Innes, the proper lady of wealth, with just the right stoicism and indifference to keep her in charge and at the same time charming. Ms. Lamb’s tiny physique became overpowering with her maid, Liddy with rolled eyes, hands on hips and stares that could make the most demanding turn meek and mild. She also showed great concern and understanding with her niece, Sally changing her attitude and showing the vulnerable, kind side of the character with the appropriate physical hugs and kisses allotted to the wealthy per day, giving us, the audience a taste of class distinction.
Mike Hathaway’s version of Thomas Johnson, the butler, was energetically performed keeping the character cleverly and skillfully evasive and kept us, the audience wondering what the heck he was up to! Mr. Hathaway perfected the usual butler stance expected, a hand behind the back, straight back and chin up. He also gave us the required smart aleck attitude required for the character. All in all, he ran the house with the proper decorum expected of the house staff; but all the while, with a squinty-eye glance and raised eyebrow, I kept hearing the old question playing in my head: Did the butler do it?
Diane Powell as Sally Innes and Joshua Sherman as Jack Bailey were delightful as the young lovers being ever so in love with those winks, tickles, silly smiles and kisses. Sally brought women’s liberation into the fold challenging her aunt by bringing a boy into the house as a guest. Ms. Powell played Sally with great ease with shoulders back, head up and even a stomp of the foot trying to educate her aunt, still living in the dark ages in regards to the new woman. Jack, the boyfriend, was caught in-between, playing lover boy to the niece and the perfect gentleman with the aunt. Mr. Sherman was wonderful as Jack, switching back and forth from loving boyfriend to gentleman guest. When the aunt decides to physically sit in-between the niece and boyfriend on the sofa, it presented some very fun moments between auntie trying to stop the young lovers and the young lovers trying to get rid of auntie!
Michael D. Durington was wonderful as Detective Jarvis, giving us the expected note pad in hand police officer, and of course, the flippant attitude to top off the character. Detective Jarvis was getting quite peeved being called up to the mansion at all hours until a murder occurs. Then we see him take charge. Mr. Durington pulls out all the stops with head scratching with a pencil and quick twists and turns of the body looking for reactions from the suspects. It was great fun watching him deduce and explore every option.
Mersham Jacques (whose true identity will remain a secret with me) as Zara, the whacky gypsy groundskeeper, is absolutely brilliant in the role. Mr./Ms. Jacques’ comedic performance was one of the best I have seen in a long time. With grand, sweeping arm gestures, to eyes so big they nearly popped out of their sockets and dance moves that commanded attention, it was a slice of heaven. Only I know who he/she is and he/she is one of the highlights of the evening.
But even with Mr./Ms. Jacques’ bigness, I have to give Jacque Campbell a bow as the cockney delight, Liddy Allen, Carrie Innes’ maid. Liddy, no matter how hard she tried, bless her heart, cannot keep her trap shut! Ms. Campbell, in one scene, even tries to not speak by miming locking her mouth with a key. Even with that gesture, she murmurs and uses vocal chirps with closed lips to still give an opinion. Ms. Campbell had the audience in stitches throughout the entire show with her brash attitude and nosy demeanor.
Musical Director, H. Richard Gwozdz and band were wonderful with nary a note out of place. The music standing alone really offers no hummable or memorable songs. But with the band and actors expertise, the music was high-energy and exploded with vivacity and excellence. I do wish, however, that a list of songs and who sung them was in the program.
Musical highlights of the evening went to the entire cast with their beautifully articulate and clean performances. Mike Hathaway, singing the demanding and energetic song “Money,” took command of the stage not only with a gun he waved about while dancing, but also with great comic expertise using just the right sock-it-to-‘em gusto. The title song “Whodunit?” was wonderfully sung by Nancy Lamb and Michael D. Durington asking the old-age question, well, WHODUNIT? It was also the catalyst to start the romance between the wealthy lady and the detective, something I sure did not think was ever possible. It was a nice twist. Zara, the Groundskeeper’s song “The Card Reading” was another twisting, turning, high-energy number that was gorgeously sung and performed by, as the program lists, Mersham Jacques. Finally, Jacque Campbell’s version of “A Ladies Maid” was perfection. It is charming, funny and magical, all rolled up into one. I’d hire her as my maid in an INSTANT!
Choreography by Darius-Anthony Robinson was finely crafted, the highlights being movement and dance during the songs “The Card Reading”, “Money” and the opening number “Sunnyside.” I enjoyed Mr. Robinson’s choices giving each actor their own distinct style of movement according to their character which added to the mystery. I loved the choreography with the song “Just Think about Me” when Sally and Jack declared their love for each other, dancing up and down the staircase, much like one would see in a 1940’s movie musical. It was very Fred Astaire.
Theatre Arlington has a hit on their hands. From the wild antics of the cockney maid, to the tarot card readings from a gypsy, to the love birds, to the inquisitive detective and the dead body count, this play offers laughs, mystery and just a heck of a lot of fun. WHODUNIT? My lips are sealed!
305 West Main Street
Arlington, TX 76010
Plays through October 5th
Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm
Tickets are $22.00 and $20.00 for students/seniors. If available, student rush tickets are only $5.00 with ID at five minutes before curtain.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to http://www.theatrearlington.org/ or call the box office at 817-275-7661 or Metro 817-261-9628 (metro).