Gilbert’s Hale Theatre opened their 2015-16 season this weekend with a muffled bang…. and a strangle and some poisoning and blunt trauma. So much murderous laughter ensued throughout their “Something’s Afoot” Agatha Christie murder-mystery spoof last night, a 1976 Broadway musical that had a subsequently stronger run in London the next year.
In typical Hale fashion, the staging was inventive and the acting top notch. From the opening notes, biting, precise consonants spewed punch lines in well-rehearsed, English-accented choral sound. Notably following the first couple murders, we’re melodically informed, “Something’s afoot….. and the butler didn’t do it.”
With character’s jaywalking straight out of novelist/playwright Christie’s “And Then There Were None,” or maybe jaunting off the Clue game board, the action clipped right along while the corpses piled ever higher in the library. Leading the cast was a proper sherry-swilling sleuth, Miss Tweed, well spoofed by Janis Webb. Probably the most secure in his guiltily innocent character creation was comedic actor Geoffrey Goorin as Flint, the gardener.
Planting the audience’s feet firmly in a 1930s English countryside estate with an American bent, were a dashing set and especially fitting period costumes. Miss Tweed’s opening Sherlock Holmes garb, complete with stylish detective hat and in particular, ingénue Hope Langdon’s Ginger Rogers gown was stunning. It helped that sweet soprano Jacqueline Brecker as Hope flowed always with Rogers-like elegance.
All in all the score teems with relatively forgettable music. There’s no allowance for powerhouse vocalises or melt-your-heart harmonies that might be burning in these actors’ breasts. It is however an apt vehicle for whizzing, clever lyrics and an ‘undyingly’ cute plot, even if British comedy isn’t exactly your cup of tea.
Along with silly Agatha Christie spoofs too delightfully numerous to mention, “Something’s Afoot” seemed to have a bonus reel playing beneath all the surface fun and farce. That is, it felt like little ironies were cleverly targeted especially toward musical theatre buffs. For instance, the show’s opening “Lovely Weekend” carries a sardonic lilt not unlike Sondheim’s “Weekend in the Country” (A Little Night Music). Likably saucy Cockney maid Lettie appeared to give a nod toward Liza Doolittle (My Fair Lady) with her adamant, “I didn’t done it!” long before she became [SPOILER ALERT] Audrey II-type fodder, done in herself by the planter (Little Shop of Horrors).