Early in the show we are told by Miss Tweed, one of seven guests invited by Lord Dudley Rancour to a weekend getaway at his luxurious mansion, that "revenge, passion, lust and greed" are the four main motives for killing someone. The estate resides on a remote island in the middle of a lake and, with a storm approaching and the bridge to the mainland impassable, the seven guests plus the three members of the house staff find themselves stranded while murder and suspense run rampant. With Lord Rancour found dead, it isn't long before motives are revealed and suspicions arise; and the body count keeps getting higher and higher as characters get bumped off while they, and the audience, attempt to solve the age old question of "whodunit?."
Loosely based on Christie's "Ten Little Indians," the show is a spoof consisting of standard mystery characters, from the conniving heir to the estate to the saucy Cockney maid to the aloof society woman with a secret to the naïve young ingénue and the sensible old woman who knows a thing or two about sleuthing, here resembling Christie's Miss Marple. Written over forty years ago, Something's Afoot has found some success in regional theatre. I have to believe that's more to do with how popular the mystery genre is and the fun aspect of trying to figure out just who the killer is, rather than the score, which is fair at best, to say the least. While the show is set in 1935 the songs don't make any attempt to sound period specific and the somewhat modern orchestrations don't fit well with the time frame of the plot. Also, most of the songs don't add much to the drama and occasionally get in the way of the unfolding mystery; in fact, most of the score could be removed without any loss to the narrative. Fortunately, the plot isn't completely predictable, so it does keep you guessing, and Hale has a cast made up of many Hale veterans who go a long way, with the gifted contributions of director and choreographer Cambrian James, to inject the production with a sense of playfulness within the suspense.
A true ensemble show, the cast is led by Janis Webb as Miss Tweed. Webb brings the right amount of sensibility and smarts to the determined amateur sleuth. Matthew Ryan Harris is a hoot as the penniless conniving nephew up to no good. His delivery of the witty "The Legal Heir" is full of fun and funny gymnastic movements and gestures, nicely staged by James. Jacqueline Brecker and Curtis Lunt are charming as the constantly sunny, young lovers while Heidi Liz Johnson and Geoffrey Goorin are delicious as the flirty maid and the randy groundskeeper. Both Goorin and Johnson have great Cockney accents and hilarious facial expressions, bringing a nice bit of jaunty double meaning to their duet, "Problematical Solution." Ami Porter and Mark Kleinman are a haughty dowager and an elderly army officer who discover they have something in common, and they have great chemistry together. In smaller, but still memorable parts, Stephen Serna and Malcolm Hooper round out the cast as the sensible family doctor and the steadfast butler.
James' staging and choreography play up the fun, silly, spoofy nature of the musical, with some superb movement that uses the entire in-the-round stage area. His choreography also adds plenty of charming period steps to the songs, all delivered expertly by the cast, and his hair and make-up designs are perfectly rooted in the British style of the 1930s. Brian Daily, Alex Fogle, and Monica Christiansen are to be commended for their lovely set designs, which include a spiffy grand entry hall. Daily and Fogle's crafty special effects and Christiansen's fun prop designs combine to contribute an abundance of items situated around the theatre, including family portraits, secret compartments, and booby traps to do in the guests. Mary Atkinson's costumes accentuate the characteristic traits of each role with plenty of pops of color and smashing, elegant dresses for the women and dashing coats and suits for the men. Jeff A. Davis' lighting is impeccable, full of suspenseful shadows and lighting effects as well as some expertly focused and fast-paced lighting to pinpoint specific characters at set moments, some of which happen at a breakneck speed.
There is definitely a lot of silliness in Something's Afoot and the score leaves a lot to be desired. Fortunately Hale's top-notch cast, spirited direction and exceptional creative aspects outweigh the negatives and turn the whole affair into a fun and funny affair of mystery, suspense, and plenty of comical intrigue.
The Hale Centre Theatre production of Something's Afoot runs through October 10, 2015, with performances at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert. Tickets can be ordered at www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling (480) 497-1181.
Directed and Choreographed by Cambrian James
Cast: (in order of appearance)