Published October 30. 2012 4:00AM
First, let's go back in time, to nearly four decades ago.
"Something's Afoot" premiered at Goodspeed Opera House in 1973, and the playbill of the current revival boasts a photo of the creators standing proudly, and looking very '70s, in front of the poster at the theater.
This musical - a murder mystery inspired by Agatha Christie novels, particularly "And Then There Were None" - then tooled around the country to various theaters before, in 1976, hitting Broadway.
The New York Times review said, "The audience adored the show - they were misguided."
James McDonald and Robert Gerlach (who wrote the show with David Vos, with additional music and lyrics by Ed Linderman) quote that line in their authors' notes for the current revival. The New York version only ran two months; "Something's Afoot" did, though, go on to win an Olivier for best musical in London.
Now, "Something's Afoot" is getting its first revival at Goodspeed.
For Goodspeed regulars, it's a bit of the sublime being followed by the ridiculous. The theater's just-wrapped production was "Carousel" - dramatic, emotional, wonderfully directed and performed.
"Something's Afoot," on the other hand, is a trifle. It's a piece with a middling script and lively if forgettable songs.
The set-up toys with every murder-mystery cliche. Strangers gather at an isolated mansion - owned, naturally, by a mysterious figure. It all unravels. In the dark. During a storm. When the mansion becomes cut off from the mainland by a flood.
The owner of the estate is Lord Dudley Rancour, but he quickly turns up dead. All the people he invited scurry off to figure out who the murderer is. Which naturally leads to more murders. (Some of the murders tend to be clumsily staged in this production.)
Going through the character list is like playing a game of Clue. Every "type" is represented, from the butler Clive (I guess naming him Jeeves would have been too on-point) to the retired military man Colonel Gillweather.
The Goodspeed production is directed by Vince Pesce, who was choreographing "Something's Afoot" and took over directing duties when Casey Hushion had to leave because of a family illness. The resulting piece isn't as sharp and cohesive as Goodspeed shows often are, but it does have its moments.
The acting gets bogged down by the exposition at certain points, but Ed Dixon gives an absolute master class in understated comedy as his character dispassionately faces the fact that he has five minutes to live before a poison does him in. Genius.
As the Miss Marple stand-in Miss Tweed, Audrie Neenan pops with excitement every time she thinks she has solved the crime. Every time, she's inevitably proven wrong - but remains forever undaunted. Her Tweed smirks like The Church Lady, and her mannerisms sometimes recall Andrea Martin's Edith Prickley SCTV character. Neenan's singing voice, alas, is on the craggy side.
The best vocalists here are Hunter Ryan Herdlicka and Alyssa Gagarin, as the guileless young lovers. Their duet on "I Don't Know Why I Trust You (But I Do)" shimmers beautifully. Gagarin is actually an understudy who performed the role of Hope on the night I saw "Something's Afoot," but you would never have suspected she wasn't the regular performer (Julia Osborne is). Gagarin beams the character's wide-eyed naivete. She and Herdlicka share an appealing chemistry, and their dance together beguiles.
As for the design elements, Tracy Christensen's costumes saucily playing up each character's most prominent traits. The Colonel turns up wearing a pith helmet and toting a rifle before changing into a pomp-and-circumstance red jacket gussied up with a purple sash, epaulets and medals to spare.
Dr. Grayburn arrives wearing argyle socks below knee-lengths pants, looking ready to hit the links. And it keeps the theme going with a vest that's the vivid shade of a putting green.
Adrian W. Jones' scenic design impresses, with its two-level construction, its dark wood paneling and multiple arches. Potential weapons appear everywhere - swords on the wall over here, fireplace pokers on the floor over there. The ominous set cleverly conceals what Miss Tweed calls the murderer's "fiendishly concocted devices."