“Something’s Afoot” at Barter Theatre

Yes, something is definitely afoot at the Barter Theatre, and that something is a lot of fun! Now musical comedies are not uncommon, but a murder mystery musical? Now that’s a twist! And there are plenty more twists in the clever new comedy, “Something’s Afoot,” with original book, music and lyrics by James McDonald, David Vos and Robert Gerlach, and additional music by Ed Linderman. This Barter production is directed by John Hardy, who, incidentally, substituted in the role of Clive, the butler, at the matinee performance I attended. Did the butler do it? I’m not talking!

It is the spring of 1935, and the scene is the country estate of Lord Dudley Rancour “…on an island in the middle of a lake somewhere in the English Lake District.” The action takes place in the elegantly conceived (Scenic Designer, Gary English) entrance hall of the manor house. The authentic interior and furnishings create a convincing country house atmosphere. Spooky organ music (Musical Director, William Perry Morgan) opens the scene and would be worthy of any Boris Karloff horror film. We meet the feisty maid, Lettie, played for plenty of laughs by Karen Sabo. Her squeaky voice and screams are a riot. She pairs nicely with the estate’s crusty old handyman, Flint (Will Bigham). Their antics always bring a smile.

The weekend guests arrive during the pleasant musical number, “A Marvelous Weekend.” The song has a Gilbert & Sullivan style in its musical arrangement; and the ensemble singing of the cast was quite pleasant. The arriving visitors include Lord Dudley’s nephew, Nigel Rancour (Mike Ostroski), the flighty ingénue, Hope (Catherine Gray), Dr. Grayburn (John Hedges), Lady Grace (Josephine Hall), Col. Gillweather (Michael Poisson), Miss Tweed (Evalyn Baron) and the college man, Geoffrey (Peter Yonka).

There were charming and beautiful period costumes from designer, Amanda Aldridge. Particular knockouts were the canary yellow country dress, and the teal green satin evening gown, with feathered sleeves, worn by Lady Grace, and the colorful military uniform of Col. Gillweather. Miss Tweed was dowdily dressed in — you guessed it — tweed!

Very quickly foul play enters the picture. Aided by the fine choral ensemble and witty lyrics, the very droll Miss Tweed presides over the amusing title song, “Something’s Afoot.” Murder and mayhem, however, are far outweighed by mirth and merriment. Never the less, one by one, lives are hilariously taken. There are schemes, explosions, floods, accidents, poisonings, gunshots, and several nasty storms. (The latter were well supported by the thunder and lightning of Sound Designer, Bobby Beck, and lighting designer, Trevor Maynard.) Surprising relationships are also revealed. I hesitate to say more, lest I spoil your fun should you attend. But Tweed is unperturbed, and bravely leads the ladies in song with the clever “Carry On.” Their spear dance is a pip!

Hope joins her love interest, Geoffrey, in a duet of  “I Don’t Know Why I Love You (But I Do).” Miss Gray has a flair for comedy, and a lovely voice; but both the lyric and the choreography come up short in this annoying song. Another disappointing tune is “The Man With the Ginger Moustache,” sung in disappointing red-hot mamma fashion by the attractive Ms. Hall. But then, what could she do with lyrics like, “A man can give a girl a rash if he has a ginger moustache!” I can assure you no one left the theater humming that one!

One by one the bodies are piling up in the library. Miss Tweed isn’t afraid to pitch in and help. She drags a body in single-handedly saying, “I need the exercise!”  In “Suspicious,” the full cast searches for clues and sings of their suspicions of one another. Mr. Ostroski shows evidence of a fine, rich voice, but ends up a bit breathless while singing another painful tune, “The Legal Heir.” A better number is the playful “Dinghy,” as Flint serenades Lettie.  With its cute lyrics and double entendres, (“A tiny little dingy is better than no dingy at all”) this song kept the audience laughing. With his fine comic delivery, I think Mr. Bigham might be a perfect Mr. Doolittle in “My Fair Lady.”

But who is left standing at the end to sing the clever tribute to mystery writers, “I Owe It All?” For that you should call the Barter box office at 276-628-3991 and make your reservations.

About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), The International Theatre Critics Association, and America's oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, he also had long service as the editor of The Lambs' Script magazine. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.
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