Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Clue, billed as "a new comedy," opened this week, the first stop of a national tour scheduled to play in twenty cities through August. It is based on the 1985 movie Clue that was not a big hit when it opened but has since developed a cult following. I personally have never seen the movie, but my companion at the theater last night, who is part of that cult and has seen it often, assures me that the stage version follows the movie very closely. Of course, presenting a story that involves tramping about from room to room–if you remember your Clue game, you know that would be the dining room, the library, the lounge, and so on–and suspects, I mean characters, making quick entrances and exits, is tricker to pull off on stage than on film.
Clue handles those challenges with aplomb, aided greatly by Lee Savage's set design that has rooms sliding in and out from both wings, along with drops descending that change the center stage from the foyer to the hall to the dining room. Director Casey Hushion keeps everything moving briskly in this 90-minute romp (no intermission) and has its split-second timing down to a science. She also skillfully establishes a playfully arch tone that allows the characters to take their predicament seriously while the actors playing those characters are clearly in on the joke. It all works splendidly.
The show was developed at the Cleveland Play House and has been staged there as well as at Bucks County Playhouse in Pennsylvania, La Mirada Theatre in California, and Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey. However, this marks the play's first national tour. Hushion directed the Cleveland and Paper Mill productions before being tapped for the tour, so she has a deep knowledge of the material and the structure, which merges farce, slapstick and mystery. It's a fluffy confection and Hushion has the recipe down pat.
There is a plot and, though it defies credulity, it holds our interest, with twists coming so quickly that we dare not let our attention waver. Clue is set in 1954, and there are several references to the McCarthy hearings. The six characters well known as possible murder suspects in the board game–Mr. Green (John Shartzer), Colonel Mustard (John Treacy Eagan), Mrs. Peacock (Joanna Glushak), Professor Plum (Jonathan Spivey), Miss Scarlet (Michelle Elaine), and Mrs. White (Tari Kelly)–have been invited to Boddy Mansion, a huge mansion in an unnamed New England city, for dinner and to resolve some undisclosed shady business.
They are greeted by the butler Wadsworth (Mark Price), who seems to be keeping secrets pertaining to what the evening holds in store. None of the guests had met before nor do they know what is behind the mysterious invitations, and they impatiently await the arrive of their host. Mr. Boddy (Alex Syiek) does finally arrive and explains to his guests what they all have in common, why he has invited them, what he expects of them, and what they will get in return. I dare not disclose more, other than to say it requires one among them to commit a murder.
Well, a murder does occur soon enough, but the victim is not the one sought by Mr. Boddy. Now alarmed that there is a murderer in their midst, the guests, along with Wordsworth and the French maid, Yvette (Elisabeth Yancy), work first together and then in pairs to get to the bottom of this messy business. There are blackouts, falling chandeliers, secret passages, unexpected visitors, and a growing collection of corpses–all of which deliciously complicate the plot.
While the characters are cardboard thin, the script does give them distinct personalities that serve as a launchpad for running jokes associated with each one. The Equity cast does a swell job of lathering these personalities with idiosyncratic behaviors and to live up to the wee bit of back story to justify the possibility that they might be the killer. Mr. Green is a skittish Republican bureaucrat and possible closet homosexual; Colonel Mustard is retired from the service and hilariously dimwitted; Mrs. Peacock is a moralizing political wife bent on covering up her husband's scandals; Professor Plum has a short fuse and randy behavior that have gotten him into hot water; Miss Scarlet is a brassy woman with an acumen for serving her gentleman clients; and the oft-married Mrs. White's late husbands each died an unlikely death.
Each of the six actors who play these invited guests/suspects does a wonderful job, and each gets a moment or two in the spotlight. I found myself particularly delighted by Michelle Elaine's blend of bawdiness and sophistication as Miss Scarlet, and by John Treacy Eagan's consistent blundering as Colonel Mustard. John Shartzer is impressive when his character makes a complete and unexpected turnaround. But the actor who steals the show (though, in fact, there are no thefts, only murders) is Mark Price as Wadsworth. His take-charge panache and ability to keep us guessing whether he is a good guy or a bad guy throughout are splendid, and a scene where he does a quick run-through of everything that has transpired up to that point–akin to Max Bialystock's ranting testimony scene in The Producers–is stupendous and brings down the house.
A couple of scenes incorporate dance or stylized movement, adding pizazz to the show, and Michael Holland's musical score provides a faux mystery vibe along the lines of Henry Mancini's theme from The Pink Panther. Jen Caprio's costume designs are well drawn to suit each character's "type," with kudos for Mrs. White's Eisenhower-era dress. Ryan O'Gara's lighting design and Jeff Human's sound design contribute to the slickness of the production. The entire design team, by the way, has been with Clue since its development at Cleveland Play House.
What you will get out of Clue is an admiration for its stagecraft and a lot of laughs: big, hearty laughs that feel so good, and so needed in these stress-addled times. It won't give you anything to think about, or talk about on the way home–except, perhaps to try to construct a catalog of all show's funniest moments. Go and have a good time.
Clue runs through March 3, 2024, at the Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis MN. For tickets and information, please call 612-339-7007 or visit hennepintheatretrust.org. For information on the tour, visit clueliveonstage.com.
Playwright: Sandy Rustin, based on the Screenplay by Jonathan Lynn, with additional material by Hunter Foster and Eric Price, based on the Paramount Motion Picture and the Hasbro board game Clue; Director: Casey Hushion; Composer and Music Supervision: Michael Holland; Scenic Design: Lee Savage; Costume Design: Jen Caprio; Lighting Design: Ryan O'Gara; Sound Design: Jeff Human; Hair, Wig and Makeup Design: J. Jared Janas; Fight Direction: Robert Westley; Casting: Pearson Casting, CSA CDG; Associate Director: Steve Bebout; Production Stage Manager: Margot Whitney.
Cast: Mariah Burks (The Cook/others), John Treacy Eagan (Colonel Mustard), Michelle Elaine (Miss Scarlet), Joanna Glushak (Mrs. Peacock), Tari Kelly (Mrs. White), Mark Price (Wadsworth), John Shartzer (Mr. Green), Jonathan Spivey (Professor Plum), Alex Syiek (Mr. Boddy/others), Teddy Trice (The Cop/others), Elisabeth Yancey (Yvette).