Your enjoyment of Clue: The Musical, now running at Napa’s Lucky Penny Community Arts Center, may be wholly dependent on two factors –
1.) Your familiarity with and affection for the classic board game upon which it is based
2.) Your familiarity with and affection for the performing artists involved.
Both of those will go a long way in getting you through the show which, though cast with top comedic talent, suffers from a weak script and unimaginative score.
First produced in Baltimore in 1995, it opened off-Broadway in 1997 and closed after a scant 29 performances. Despite its lack of success, the show has become a staple of community theatre, no doubt playing off the goodwill and sense of nostalgia that many people have for childhood amusements. That goodwill is tested.
It is, in essence, an evening of murder mystery dinner theatre, albeit without the dinner. You get fourteen songs instead. The show opens with Mr. Boddy (a jaunty Barry Martin) gleefully admitting to his eventual murder and facilitating the audience’s selection of perpetrator, location and weapon. Clues are revealed throughout the evening and audience members who wish to “play” are given clue sheets with which to deduce the answers to the mystery. There are apparently 216 possible solutions to the crime which no doubt created an interesting challenge for the cast.
And what a cast it is that director Taylor Bartolucci has gathered. The suspects are of course Mrs. Peacock (Daniela Innocenti Beem), Professor Plum (Tim Setzer), Miss Scarlett (Danielle Debow), Colonel Mustard (Larry Williams), Mrs. White (Phillip Percy Williams), and Mr. Green (Michael Scott Wells). They’re joined by the aforementioned Mr. Boddy and a second-act detective (Heather Buck). It’s a shame that a cast this talented and who are proven laugh-getters aren’t given much with which to work.
Not that they don’t try. What laughs there are in the script and songs (and there are a couple) are amplified by the terrific comedic skills of the cast. Beem’s cabaret experience pays off as Mrs. Peacock works the audience from her grand entrance to exit. Her big number, “Once a Widow”, may be the show’s musical highlight. Williams is fun as the festooned Colonel Mustard. Setzer’s constipated Professor Plum is almost over-shadowed by his pomegranate pants. Philip Percy Williams also works the audience – both vocally and physically – as Mrs. White but his choice of accent sometimes made his song lyrics unintelligible. Wells’ shady Mr. Green and Daniel Debow’s lounge lizard-ette Miss Scarlett play well off of (and with) each other.
Credit should be given to Staci Arriaga for some creative choreography and for managing to make pretty effective use of the limited stage space. Musical Director Craig Burdette and his band did what they could with a lackluster score. The set/prop design (also by Bartolucci) and costuming (Liz Martin and Liesl Seitz Buchbinder) do evoke the original game elements.
Clue: The Musical isn’t terrible – it couldn’t be with all the talent involved – but it isn’t very good either. The term “middling” comes to mind. People who attend expecting something like the 1985 cult film starring Tim Curry are likely to be disappointed. (Interestingly, there is a new non-musical theatrical adaptation of the film which just premiered last month.)
So, if it’s not the cast and it’s not the directors and it’s not the designers at fault, who’s responsible for this theatrical misdemeanor? In the vernacular of the game:
The writers. In the theater. With this script.
Clue: The Musical plays Thursdays through Sundays through June 18 at Napa’s Lucky Penny Community Arts Center. For more information, go to luckypennynapa.com