A huge, magnificent set greets us as TheatreFest opens its second performance of the summer, the musical comedy Something's Afoot. This grand and hilarious spoof of the mystery genre includes everything you would expect: a mysterious gathering, a wickedly crafted murder, and a crackerjack cast to put it all together. The book, music, and lyrics are all written by playwrights James McDonald, David Voss and Robert Gerlach. Performed in the Titmus Theatre in Thompson Hall on the NCSU campus, Something's Afoot will run concurrently with the Agatha Christie mystery The Hollow (read our review here), which is running in the Kennedy-McIlwee Studio Theatre, also in Thompson Hall.
Something's Afoot is set on the island home of Lord Dudley Rancour's country estate, in the middle of a large lake. This is important because when an electrical storm floods the bridge and knocks out the power, our reluctant "guests" cannot escape what becomes a gruesomely comedic death sentence. Using a cast of ten and a six-piece orchestra, director Rachel Klem of NCSU's University Theatre gave this sold-out opening night audience a show to remember.
A household trio of servants opens Lord Dudley's home for the weekend, as his lordship is expecting six guests at his formal invitation. Finishing touches are laid on as the butler, Clive (Linh Schladweiler), instructs the caretaker, Flint (Nathan Head), and the newly-hired maid, Lettie (Dance Captain Morgan Piner), on how to greet the six guests arriving at any moment. First through the grand entry upstage center is Hope Langdon (Carly Prentis Jones), a young woman who is thoroughly entranced by the grand estate and country hunting lodge; this is her first invitational weekend out. Hope and the servants open the introductory company number, which introduces the guests to us and each other. "A Marvelous Weekend" quickly grows to a nine-voice chorus as the guests all arrive and quickly get dressed for dinner. We meet Dr. Grayburn (Ron Foreman), a general practitioner; Nigel Rancour (Ryan Miller), his lordship's nephew; Lady Grace Manley-Prowe (Susan Durham-Lozaw), a local socialite of some renown; Colonel Gillwether (Bill Saunders), a lifetime military man; and Miss Tweed (Lenore Field), a painter and amateur sleuth. Geoffrey (Daryl Ray Carliles) is an unexpected guest; he has had to swim here from his rowing skiff, which was swamped on the lake in the storm.
The setting is dark and forebodying, with a huge pipe organ, a multitude of heads of different animals on the walls, a grand staircase leading to a balcony overlooking the parlor, the kitchen offstage left and the library offstage right. There is a massive iron chandelier in the foyer and a quaint circular couch directly center. All these things figure prominently in the events that unfold during this spooky and treacherous stormy night. Clive takes up his station on the stair landing for his usual announcement of dinner, but instead, he surprises his guests with the information that his master is dead, and therefore "will not be joining you for dinner." Immediately upon this announcement, Clive is struck down and slain by a booby-trap laid into the stairs. "Something's Afoot," led by Miss Tweed, sets the whole cast on pins and needles, as Miss Tweed figures out just what has happened to the loyal servant, and the idea that they are all in danger from their now-deceased host. By means of several wickedly crafty booby traps, the guests all start dying off.
Rachel Klem has assembled some massive talent in her ten-person cast, which includes a trio of returning TheatreFest veterans. Linh Schladweiler (Clive) not only returns to TheatreFest, he is also married to the stage manager! Susan Durham-Lozaw (Lady Grace) and Ryan Miller (Nigel) are also returning. All three of these veterans sport excellent voices and have hilarious solo numbers to perform before each meets his separate demise. Adding to this talent pool are several veteran Triangle actors, including Lenore Field (Miss Tweed) and Carly Prentis Jones (Hope). All these cast members have musical theatre to their credit, and they are led by Musical Director Julie A. Florin in an even dozen tunes, which include some very fancy stepping as well as fine singing voices.
Something's Afoot is a truly entertaining evening of musical theatre, which gives a loving poke at the mystery theatre genre. It includes an unabashed salute to the fair dame herself, Agatha Christie, in the company number "I Owe It All," in Act II and reprised by this cast for the final curtain and well-deserved curtain calls. This loving, if somewhat diabolical salute to The Murder Mystery, was quick, sharp, and superbly acted, and we were quickly caught up in its clever and well-paced plotline. Something's Afoot is perfect summer fun, and a fine match to its deucedly clever TheatreFest companion, The Hollow.
Something's Afoot continues through Sunday, June 26. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.