By Joseph McDonough
Something's Afoot is supposed to be a musical spoof of Agatha Christie whodunits such as Ten Little Indians.
But a spoof of a mystery can't be successful if all the suspense is taken away and replaced with jokes that fall flat and songs that don't inspire.
The victims of Something's Afoot at Northern Kentucky University's Summer Dinner Theatre are the cast of 10 who try hard but are ultimately done in by weak material, aided and abetted by poor direction.
Where's the urgency?
The authors of the show (James McDonald, Robert Gerlach, David Vos and Ed Linderman) start off with all the right cliches: several strangers are invited to a creepy English mansion on an island where they quickly become cut off from the mainland.
The stock characters (a doctor, a wealthy dame, a sniveling nephew, etc.) are soon murdered off one by one as we find out each has a secret past. But the script has little in the way of wit.
And in turning the story into a musical comedy, the authors have thrown away any sense of fear or urgency in discovering who the murderer is because we're not supposed to take any of it seriously.
What's worse, the dull songs (only "Problematical Solution" is memorable because of its double entendres) all stop the action of the mystery rather than propell it forward. This all puts an incredible burden on the director to come up with truly funny staging to keep the show interesting.
Unfortunately, Mary Jo Beresford's direction isn't up to the task. The pace is not nearly frenetic enough. It's leisurely instead of a matter of life and death. Beresford has some characters more cartoonish and over-the-top than others.
And most of the sight gags (such as the way the butler steps down the stairs) just don't work.
Performers do their best
None of the actors is particularly bad. In fact, they do the best they can. But they are held back by the limitations of the material and the production.
The best of the bunch are Christine Jones as the self-appointed detective, Jennifer Myers as the young ingenue, Matthew Taylor as the Army colonel, and Andrew J. Bernhard as the manor caretaker.
Humor is a subjective, quirky thing. Last summer I found NKU's Murder at the Howard Johnson's (with an equally ridiculous script) laugh-out-loud funny from start to finish.
But Something's Afoot never comes to life. It drops dead on the stage. And the wounds are self-inflicted.
Something's Afoot, through July 27, NKU, (859) 572-5464.
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