CLUE THE MUSICALMusic by Galen Blum, Wayne Barker and Vinnie Martucci
Lyrics by Tom Chiodo
Book by Peter DePietro
Based on the board game by Parker Brothers
Plaza Theatre Company
Director – Dennis Yslas
Music Director – Bree Cockerell
Choreographer – Darius-Anthony Robinson
Stage Management – Cessany Ford
Costume Design – Kara Barnes
Sound Design – G. Aaron Siler
Lighting Design – Cameron Barrus
Set Design – JaceSon P. Barrus
Set Mural Painting – Julie Lee
Set Construction – JaceSon P. Barrus, Justin Diyer
Properties Design – Tammie Phillips
Mr. Boddy – G. Aaron Siler
Mrs. Peacock – Kathy Lemons
Professor Plum – David Goza
Miss Scarlet – Gemma Garcia
Col. Mustard – Jay Lewis
Mrs. White – Joshua Sherman
Mr. Green – Jonathan Metting
Detective – Stacey Greenwalt King
The Piano Player – Cheri Dee Mega
The Percussionist – Parker Barrus
Photo Credit: Stacey Greenawalt King
Reviewed Performance: 10/19/2013
Reviewed by Ashlea Palladino, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
This trend certainly isn’t a new precept for any form of entertainment, but gosh, before we know it some eager producer out there will make a musical out of a…a board game, or something crazy like that. What’s that? I’m behind the times? Oh, yes! The creative team behind Clue The Musical did just that and brought their version of the “classic detective game” to a Baltimore dinner theater in 1995. The show died a pretty quick death Off-Broadway (it was the book, in the theater, with the critics’ scathing remarks) in late 1997, but it remains oft-produced by community theaters, likely because of its brand name appeal to the masses. I mean, who hasn’t played Clue?
Plaza Theatre Company unleashed Clue The Musical as its 69th main stage offering with mixed results. Director Dennis Yslas assembled a capable cast, though some actors were tellingly more confident and embedded into their characters. Take out your Detective Notepads and follow along as I attempt to solve the mystery of this production.
Set Designer and Set Mural Painter, JaceSon P. Barrus and Julie Lee respectively, rolled all sixes with their interpretation of the board game’s 1963 U.S. edition. Plaza co-founder Barrus explained during intermission that the show’s set was modeled after the version of Clue his family owned during his childhood, which was an interesting and poignant detail. The majority of the stage floor was painted in a series of perfectly-spaced maizey-parchmenty squares to reflect the playing area of the board game. Bordering the playing tiles at well-spaced intervals were six squares used to identify the rooms in Boddy Manor: kitchen, ballroom, lounge, billiard room, conservatory and study. Painted on the wall above and behind each room square was an exact replica of that particular room from the game board. Ms. Lee was precise in color, shading and perspective so that each room popped off the wall and was easily identifiable. The 1963 version of Clue was reflective of the time period with bright oranges, greens and yellows, and an almost cartoonish effect. After you see the musical, Google “1963 Clue game board” and see just how spot on the murals were.
As with all performances in the round, there’s usually at least one scene where audience members feel left out based on their seating position. Not so with Clue The Musical as Mr. Yslas kept his crew of suspects in almost constant motion. Large, readable props also added to that feeling of inclusion. What was your favorite Clue weapon as a kid? I always gravitated toward the candlestick, because it seemed so innocuous and innocent when compared to weapons like the revolver and the knife. Prop Master Tammie Phillips stuck closely to the guidelines mapped out by the board game, and all of the weapons – including my beloved candlestick – were represented accurately, memorably and with great heft.
Costumer Kara Barnes chose wisely for these iconic players, though I expected to see more time period reflection in her pieces, as was expressed by the murals. Mrs. Peacock was the most lavishly dressed in a turquoise, beaded cocktail dress that fit the actress nicely. She wore the signature peacock plumage on a headpiece and there were even peacock feathers painted onto her ivory pumps. Miss Scarlet donned a satin dress in a shade of red befitting her name, along with a black boa to emphasize her sass. Similarly to Mrs. Peacock, Scarlet’s shoes were brightly blinged and detailed. Col. Mustard’s uniform was particularly impressive with matching epaulets and pith helmet; he managed to look military formal and animated at the same time. The other characters wore suits and uniforms that embodied the color of their name: White wore white, Green wore green, and Plum wore…well, you get the idea.
It was apparent the show wasn’t staffed with professional dancers though Darius-Anthony Robinson’s choreography focused more on accentuating normal body movements than precision and perfection. As stated previously, none of the actors was still for long but Mr. Robinson added some flare which moved the story and the actors along with purpose and panache. For example, during “Don’t Blame Me”, the actors pled their cases to the audience and moved along the game board from room to room. Instead of just walking to their respective destinations, however, they pirouetted and glided and slid. These diversions of movement kept my eye busy and added to the frenetic tone of the song.
Cameron Barrus’ lighting design utilized pinks and blues but relied on greens to cast just the right haze on the straw-colored stage. Each of the manor rooms was individually lit and highlighted when there was action happening therein, which drew the audience toward the movement and helped to further identify the setting.
So the show looked great, but how did it sound? This is where the clues led me somewhat astray. While some of the Tom Chiodo’s lyrics are funny and clever, the score sounded rudimentary, repetitive and frankly, a bit boring. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show where so much of the music was performed in unison. The word itself might as well be added to the list of murder weapons, for its effect on my ears was deadly. I’ve never seen Clue onstage prior to this production, so I didn’t know if this performance style was standard or not. If the show was originally written this way, so be it; it’s just not my brand of biscuit. But I took a peek at the libretto after returning from Cleburne, and it was clear some liberties were taken with parts of the score. I was disappointed that the music wasn’t more inspiring.
During the first portion of “Everyday Devices” (before the other suspects join in) there may have been a note or two a third above the others, but otherwise the actors remained on the same note throughout. Confusing me further was Miss Scarlet’s tendency to match Mr. Green’s octave for several measures and then jump to the next octave for a bit, only to end up back with Mr. Green. Many other songs were performed this way, like “She Hasn’t Got a Clue” and “Foul Weather Friend.”
I’ve now seen several shows at Plaza, and save one (my favorite PCT production, 2010’s A Christmas Carol), the productions employed musical tracks instead of live instrumentation. This is one area where the music was not lacking in Clue, as a live pianist and percussionist were utilized throughout the show. Cheri Dee Mega and Parker Barrus added a great deal of authenticity and value with their onstage performances.
G. Aaron Siler portrayed our host and narrator, Mr. Boddy. Mr. Siler hit his mark with every entrance and all of his lines were delivered with wit and timing. He mixed in a little bit of pomp and noir when he relayed clues to the audience which added to the air of mystery. Mr. Siler’s versatile, controlled voice is the first one hears during Act I’s “The Game” and his various musical numbers thereafter confirmed him as the vocal standout amongst this cast.
As Mrs. Peacock, Kathy Lemons was the actor most fully entrenched in their character. She sang “Once a Widow” with enviable energy and exuberance and she coasted around the stage using every inch of its available space to her advantage. She integrated audience members into her song with her pointed stare but also with actual interpersonal touch. Ms. Lemons’ hand movements were of particular note as they flickered and posed to match her dialogue. Her vocals were strong and lively even if lacking a measured degree of tonal difference.
David Goza’s Professor Plum was understated and shy. I wanted a little bit more emotion and animation from him, though Mr. Goza shared the show’s funniest scene as he quipped and volleyed back and forth with The Detective, played by Stacey Greenwalt King, in an exchange related to great literary works. Mrs. King’s vocals outpaced Mr. Goza’s on their duet, “Seduction Deduction,” and their choreography and movements together seemed stilted and awkward.
I’ve already relayed my questions regarding Gemma Garcia’s musical choices as Miss Scarlet, and though she looked the part in her crimson dress and long, beautiful mane, I didn’t quite believe her as a conniving seductress. She lacked a certain bravado that I expected from such a role and her accent seemed to wander from continent to continent.
Plaza Theatre Company veteran Jay Lewis (the playbill notes his performance in twenty or more Plaza productions) effectively expressed the fumbling humor of Col. Mustard and his appearance matched my mental interpretation of this character. His physicality was noted during the scene with Mrs. Peacock when they reminisced about their old friendship and plotted their new affair.
As the scripted balance to Professor Plum, Jonathan Metting’s Mr. Green was appropriately bumbling and dimwitted, all the while able to speak fairly intelligently on the subject of his business dealings with Mr. Boddy. I hoped for more difference between these two performers, though Mr. Metting set himself apart with his character’s misuse of popular proverbs and colloquialisms. Instead of saying “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” Mr. Metting’s line was “Don’t count your chickens before they cross the road.” His vocals were strong and his strut indicated a confidence and comfort on the stage.
Rounding out this ensemble was Joshua Sherman as Mrs. White. He carried the first solo song of the show, “Life is a Bowl of Pits,” with an almost maniacal Cockney glee. He stalked about the kitchen area of the stage and used the props as extensions of his character. In alignment with the tradition of English pantomime, I was pleased with Plaza’s choice to place a man in this role.
While participation was optional, each playbill was accompanied by an insert that allowed us to play along with our fellow audience members toward the goal of finding out whodunit, where, and with which weapon. Mr. Boddy disseminated clues at various points throughout the show, though I will admit that my guesses were altogether wrong! This loss was a bitter pill to swallow for someone with my competitive nature but I took the loss on the chin and reacted in the only way I possibly could: I bought a Blizzard from the nearby Dairy Queen and ate it while I pondered my languishing career as a detective.
Plaza Theatre Company
111 S. Main Street
Cleburne, TX 76033
Runs through November 9th
Thursday - Saturday at 7:30pm, and Saturday matinees at 3:00pm. No show on Thursday, October 31st.
Tickets are $15.00, $14.00 for students (HS and college) and seniors (65+), and $13.00 for children 12 and under.
For information and to purchase tickets, go online to www.plaza-theatre.com or by calling the box office at 817-202-0600.