Clue: The Musical, like the board game which is its source material, is full of little surprises. Just as the show seems to settle on being one thing – the goofy send up of murder mysteries it initially presents itself as quickly gives way to a completely new take on the genre as the show introduces itself as something completely new in the second act. The entire comedic basis for the production revolves around a board game I’ve never played and makes use of a script by Peter DePietro that is, on its face, unbalanced, yet Little Lake Theatre’s newest crowd-pleaser has more in it than its seven obvious British caricatures would suggest.
Like the Hasbro game, Clue: The Musical is an interactive murder mystery. Mr. Boddy (Eric Thomas), a man who is not so much evil as just generally a little gross to everyone he knows, acts as the story’s narrator. He introduces us to our cast of archetypes: there is Professor Plum (John M. Hermann), a pedantic academic who lost his family fortune to one of Boddy’s bad business deals. Mrs. Peacock (Kathy Hawk), Boddy’s current wife, has made her fortune from the unfortunate deaths of her ex-husbands. The psychotic Colonel Mustard, meanwhile, is engaging in an affair with Peacock, and filled jealousy.
There are more, of course, and they each have sufficient motive. It all sounds rather grisly written out, but just as the audience has come to enjoy solving a murder puzzle, the characters have come to enjoy building one. It’s not only because the play features a random assortment of outcomes, or that Boddy dishes out clues inbetween scenes that have everyone scrawling out notes on little white checklists. The characters rejoice in their bizarre existence, none more so than Boddy himself, who literally demands the audience forego their sympathy. He’s the destined murder victim, after all, and he loves it. Like the cow who was born to be eaten in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide series, the humanitarians are the real villains.
Speaking of, Clue’s utilization of Mr. Boddy as a willing victim of murder is without question the creepiest sequence in any play I’ve seen this year. I understand that the production wants us to consider him as we would a board game piece, but watching a man giggle as he is torn asunder by six murderers is infinitely more off-putting than simply obscuring the violence.
This commitment to board game design extends beyond a few fourth wall breaking gags. Clue doesn’t indulge in its musicality so much as succumb to it occasionally as punctuation. There is no great reason for Clue to be a musical other than that it opens up the opportunity for gags and breaks tension. The music, originally written by Galem Blum, Wayne Barker and Vinnie Martucci with lyrics by Tom Chiodo is well enough and Little Lake’s cast (accompanied by pianist Laura Daniels and percussionist Josh Anischenko) is bursting at the seams with energy when a song begins. Whether you like or dislike musicals, however, will almost certainly be incidental to how you feel about Clue.
The reason Little Lake’s friendly and colorful production won me over so easily is because of its earnest adherence to gaming’s primary quality: play. It is a show that has internalized Clue’s classist stereotypes and dark comedy, compartmentalized the game’s core mechanics of building and releasing tension through (for the most part) punching up, and has come out the other end insisting Clue should be fun for any audience anywhere with its fangs intact. At the risk of getting overly academic, Clue is literally a show that gives physical form to society’s dissonance and allows you to revel in its collapse. The ability to stand outside of discourse and laugh at it helps us reenter it more receptively. Little Lake has thrown in some light political jabs to their production – bipartisan jabs, I’ll hasten to add – and I was surprised at how united the audience was in its laughter.
There is also the unassailable chemistry of the cast, as directed by Art DeConciliis. On the ‘chew the scenery’ scale, the entire cast is at a 10, and they all go about their mastication in an entirely different way. Leah Hillgrove plays Boddy’s put-upon personal servant Mrs. White, and manages the incredible feat of embodying working class caricature without the slightest hint of condescension; she is also unbelievably funny. Miss Scarlet (Samantha DeConciliis-Davin) and Mr. Green (Jeff Johnston), meanwhile, wouldn’t feel out of place in a spoof of mob films from the 1980’s. Kathy Hawk spins the audience around her fingertips when she is center stage. John M. Herrmann’s Mr. Peacock, who begins the play as a somewhat tertiary figure, reveals himself to be boiling over with mania by the play’s finish. Dewayne Curry’s Strangelove-ian Colonel Mustard is straight up kind of terrifying. There is even an avatar for the Clue player in Laura Barletta’s hardboiled detective, who rather cleverly succumbs to anxiety when it’s her turn to push the story forward.
As a game, Little Lake’s Clue: The Musical is, if we’re being honest, a series of random chances that lead to one of six monologues at the end. Thankfully, the play’s distillation of play is so much fun that it doesn’t matter in the end.
Clue: The Musical runs at Little Lake Theatre through October 28. Tickets and more information can be found here.
Photos by James Orr.