By Dale King
If you manage to snag a ticket to the very view-worthy comedic musical mystery Something’s Afoot at the Delray Beach Playhouse before it drops the final curtain Feb. 12, lend an ear to a song called “I Owe It All,” which should provide an overview of where this production is coming from.
The bouncy melody, shared in mutual musicality by most everyone in the cast, will tell you that the on-stage troupe attributes the success of its riotous spoof of the mystery genre largely to Agatha Christie — the lead purveyor of that writing style — and to other scribes of the detective variety, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle among them.
In case you’ve spent sleepless nights wondering if anyone has ever written a musical, satirical sendup of mystery theater pieces, you can put away the sleep aids. Yes, there is a production of this type. And it’s actually been around for nearly a half century, having opened at the Lyceum Theater in New York in 1976.
Simply stated, Something’s Afoot is a murder mystery musical that spoofs detective stories, generally the works of Agatha Christie, and especially her detective novel “And Then There Were None” (aka “Ten Little Indians”).
The book, music and lyrics were written by James McDonald, David Vos and Robert Gerlach, with additional music by Ed Linderman. The DB Playhouse pays tribute to the musical nature of this production by bringing in a live band to accompany the players.
This show is dressed in British drab but is sensationally silly. It uses all of Christie’s physical accoutrements but sets them against a background of merry melodies filled with puns and cliches common to on-stage mystery drama — but skewed to the comic side.
As Delray Playhouse Artistic Director Randolph DelLago tells it as the play opens, the show actually attracted big-name Welsh actress Tessie O’Shea to star in the Lyceum opening in May of ’76 – a performance that won her a Tony.
The production in Delray is packed with all the usual suspects, all gathered in an excellently crafted set that flawlessly mirrors the British country estates often found in Christie’s stories. Plaudits to scenic designer/scenic artist Cindi Taylor for concocting such a gorgeous backdrop, with twin chandeliers that hint of impending danger.
Naturally, a group of guests has already begun arriving to spend a weekend in the country. And, again, of course, a storm is brewing outside. So, the audience is prepped in advance for thunder, lightning and all the uneventful events those quirks of nature can bring.
Not only that, the arrival of the guests is accompanied by the opening song: “Introduction of the Guests (Oh, What a Lovely House.)” The next tune on the list: “A Marvelous Weekend,” something promised to everyone stepping through the heavy wooden door of the hardily framed house with all the proper decorations and furnishings.
As the show — set in 1935 at the country manse of one Lord Dudley Rancour on an island by a lake — opens, guests begin to cut loose with all the well-worn tropes you can imagine in a murder mystery: The lovely ingenue (Sara Tripp), the bristly Army man (Eric Fields), the suspicious, bearded, no-good nephew (Mark Giorgione), the calm doctor (Jack Stein), the hysterical woman (Elaine Budnick) and the amateur detective (Spensyr Bach, excellent in her vocal and investigative roles) are all on hand to wait for the next shoe to drop.
Joining them, of course, is the help: the stuffy butler (Daniel Kent), the saucy maid (Megan Deford) and the folksy caretaker, bald-headed Flint (Dr. Steven Teisch). And finally, the mysterious last-minute guest Geoffrey (Christopher Calhoun), who seems, at first, to be the obvious murder suspect.
As one might expect, a storm washes out the bridge and everyone is trapped in the house. It isn’t long before the first murder takes place. As the last guest arrives, butler Clive announces that a storm has made the estate inaccessible and that all the phone lines are down. Suddenly struck by a bolt from the blue, he dies — just as he announces that dinner is ready and Lord Rancour (Jack Munna) is dead.
Miss Tweed — who apparently consumed the contents of Christie’s Miss Marple novels with gusto — takes charge and launches an investigation. The probe gets loonier as guests begin to drop off by means of such fiendishly clever special effects devices as a nerve-gas emitting telephone, a scarf-around-the neck-grabbing fireplace and a flesh-eating Ming vase.
Something’s Afoot is wholesome fun, packed with gags and goofs worth an evening of entertainment.
Director DelLago’s quiet manner and the fancy footwork of choreographer Christopher Calhoun also add to the circumstances. Tony Stamos handles the dual role of pianist and conductor with aplomb, leading a band that includes Hudson Furtado on woodwinds, David Kroll on percussion, Albert Perera on trumpet and Brandon Stair on bass.
Something’s Afoot is playing through Feb. 12 at the Delray Beach Playhouse, 950 NW 9th St. in Delray Beach. Tickets and can be purchased online at delraybeachplayhouse.com, or by phone at 561-272-1281.