‘Something’s Afoot’ at Vagabond Players

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On a dark and stormy night, six weekend guests, three servants, and a stranger find themselves trapped in a dead man’s country estate. And as the evening progresses, their numbers begin to dwindle. Something is definitely afoot in this zany homage to Agatha Christie, and surprisingly, the butler didn’t do it!

Front Row: Gary Dieter, Amanda Dixon, Thomas Gardner, Tammy Oppel. Middle Row: Mike Ware, Jane C. Boyle, Steve Antonsen. Back Row: Elton Knupp, Tim Evans, Dean Allen Davis. Photo by Tom Laurer.

Front Row: Gary Dieter, Amanda Dixon, Thomas Gardner, Tammy Oppel. Middle Row: Mike Ware, Jane C. Boyle, Steve Antonsen. Back Row: Elton Knupp, Tim Evans, Dean Allen Davis. Photo by Tom Laurer.

Directed by Eric J. Potter, Something’s Afoot is the second production in Vagabond Player’s centennial season. Lord Dudley Rancour has invited several guests to his country estate, Rancour’s Retreat, located on an island in the middle of a lake. Each guest has come believing they’re to meet with Lord Rancour privately, but before dinner has even been served, the butler announces that Rancour is dead and rain has washed out the bridge, isolating them on the island until the storm has passed. And then, as if the situation isn’t dire enough, the butler is murdered before their eyes. There goes the prime suspect. Written by James McDonald, David Vos, and Robert Gerlach, with additional music by Ed Linderman, this comical send up of the mystery genre parodies all those familiar tropes with song, dance, and rampant mockery.

Eric Potter has assembled a talented cast to portray these murder-mystery arch types. Making up the help are Tammy Oppel, Gary Dieter, and Tim Evans. Tammy Oppel plays put-upon Lettie, the saucy maid who’s forced to carry on with her duties in the midst of terror. Gary Dieter is cringe-worthily smarmy as Flint, the caretaker.

And Tim Evans, who played Clive in Vagabonds’ first production of Something’s Afoot in 1978, has reprised his role as the fussy butler.

Amanda Dickson plays the starry-eyed ingenue Hope Langdon, the first of the guests Lord Dudley Rancour has invited to his country home for the weekend. Dickson is practically perfect in her role, with blonde hair, pink cheeks, and a nearly imperturbable aura of naivety. Mike Ware plays the good Dr. Grayburn, the family doctor. Dean Allen Davis plays the black sheep nephew, Nigel Rancour, who has a delightfully devious solo number in Act II, “The Legal Heir.”

Elton Elizabeth Knupp is elegant as Lady Grace Manley-Prowe, the grande dame with a mysterious past. Steve Antonsen is courageous and upright as Colonel Gillweather, the old army man. Having heard him in Side by Side by Sondheim, it’s a shame there wasn’t more for him to sing, but his acting chops get a true chance to shine here.

Jane C. Boyle and Gary Dieter. Photo by Tom Lauer.

Jane C. Boyle and Gary Dieter. Photo by Tom Lauer.

Jane C. Boyle plays Miss Tweed, an independant women with a mind for mystery and adventure, thanks to her love of mystery novels. Her performance is a standout among an already great cast, and her solo during the Act I finale, “Suspicious,” is hilarious.

The role of Geoffrey, a stranger who seeks refuge from the storm at Rancour Retreat, is shared by two actors: Thomas Gardner and Darren McDonnell. Thomas Gardner performed opening night, and was a great match for Amanda Dickson’s Hope. The two were almost unbearably sweet together, sharing a song or two and some fancy footwork.

And responsible for that footwork is Ernie Ritchey. Ritchey’s choreography is wonderful. There’s nothing too fancy or showy. Instead, Ritchey skillfully matches the abilities of the actors with the needs of the scene and song.

Maurice “Moe” Conn has designed an absolutely sumptuous set. Filled with plenty of period decor, Vagabond’s stage has been made over into a picture perfect foyer for a turn-of-the-century English manor house. All manner of clever tricks and effects are hidden on stage, and it was a delight to see which decorations and fixtures were going to be used to homicidal effect next. And Lighting Designer Ed Lake has taken full advantage of the storm to create some dramatic lighting effects that just might make you jump.

The costumes, designed by Tracy Bird of Stage Garb, Inc, are equally on pointe. Colorful, well-tailored, and harmonious with the setting, the costumes are a lovely, though Lady Grace’s evening gown and the Colonel’s suit are especially dazzling.

Darren McDonnell, and Amanda Dixon. Photo by Tom Lauer.

Darren McDonnell, and Amanda Dixon. Photo by Tom Lauer.

Music Director Charlotte Evans has done well with a vocally uneven cast. While the quality of the singing varies from actor to actor, they pull together for the ensemble numbers with aplomb. “Something’s Afoot” and “Suspicious” are well sung and hilariously performed, and the women’s ensemble, “Carry On,” was a personal favorite.

Vagabond Players’ Something’s Afoot is a riot of a musical, with a zany plot, witty lyrics, a fabulous cast, and stellar production values. It truly lives up to that old saying that “Parody is the sincerest form of flattery.” Don’t miss it!

Running Time: Two hours, including a 15-minute intermission.

Something’s Afoot is playing through November 15, 2015 at the Vagabond Players – 806 South Broadway, in Baltimore, MD. To purchase tickets, call (410) 563-9135, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

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