Review: ‘Something’s Afoot’ at The British Players

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A musical murder-mystery who-done-it is a strange bird indeed. But it can work if expertly executed. Something’s Afoot, with book, music and lyrics by James McDonald,
David Vos and Robert Gerlach—and additional music by Ed Linderman—ran briefly on Broadway 40 years ago and The British Players has brought it back to the stage in winning fashion. This version of Something’s Afoot is smartly directed by Chrish Kresge and wonderfully musically directed by Charles Hoag, to stage a delightful night of mellifluous merriment.

Miranda Austin Tharp as Hope and Joe Lilek as Geoffrey. Photo by Simmons Design.

Set in 1935 at the country estate of one Lord Dudley Rancour on an island in a lake, the story is a spoof of famed mystery writer Agatha Christie’s works, similar to her novel “Ten Little Indians”. Wrote Kresge about Something’s Afoot: “Sometimes we just crave entertainment—pure unadulterated fun, with no agenda, no lesson to be learned, no emotional toll to be taken.”

The country estate was filled with many peculiar characters, including Dr. Grayburn (John Allnutt); the eccentric, lampoonish, mustachioed Colonel Gillweather (the gloriously funny Allan Brown); ditzy maid Lettie (Amanda Dullin-Jones); lascivious old man Flint (Malcolm Edwards); the officious Nigel Rancour (the always excellent Ken Kemp, seen last year as the narrator in Our Town); college student Geoffrey (Joe Lilek); Clive the butler (John O’Leary); amateur detective Miss Tweed (the dazzlingly good Missi Tessier); Hope Langdon (Miranda Austin Tharp); Lady Grace Manley-Prowe (the entertaining Stephanie Wesley); and the voice of the departed Lord Dudley Rancour (the wonderful Colin Davies, recently seen in Fear Eats the Soul).

(L to R) Ken Kemp as Nigel, Allan Brown as Colonel Gillweather, Stephanie Wesley as Lady Manley-Prowe, Malcolm Edwards as Flint, Miranda Austin Tharp as Hope, Joe Lilek as Geoffrey and Amanda Dullin-Jones as Lettie. Photo by Simmons Design.

The musical numbers kept the excitement up, including the opening “A Marvelous Weekend” by the ensemble. I loved Tessier’s vocals in the titular “Something’s Afoot”. Edwards brought many laughs with the suggestive “Problematical Solution (The Dinghy Song)”. Lilek and Tharp dueted nicely in “I Don’t Know Why I Trust You (But I Do)”.

The performances were campy throughout. I loved Brown’s soldierly stage presence; his King George V mustache was nearly a whole additional character. Tessier excelled in her scenes as amateur detective. Allnutt did a great job filling in for the taken-ill Dave Bradley as Dr. Grayburn.

Set Designer/Technical Director Mike Lewis has created the quintessential British set, featuring all green paint and polished wood paneling-Cherly-with a ready-to-move-in look. Properties Designer/Set Dresser Cheryl Lytle’s props, which included Medieval pikes and swords, featured prominently in the dispatching of characters. Lytle must have worked closely with Phil Railsback, who headed up Motion Control and Effects Design. Railsback’s effects made the set come to life in a deadly way for the characters.

John Allnutt as Dr. Grayburn and Missi Tessier as Miss Tweed.
Photo by Simmons Design.

Musical Director Hoag and the orchestra including Sue Mason McElroy, Keyboard; Paul Weiss, Trumpet; Jared Creason and Fred Talcott, Bass; Robin Olson, Trombone; and Chris Epinger, Dana Gardner, Julie Pangelinan and Mila Weiss on Reeds, made the music hum. Choreographer Kay Casstevens made the chorus-line-like steps of the actors work in unison.

Nicola Hoag’s Costume Design was superb; Brown’s red British army dress uniform was dashing. James Robertson’s Lighting Design effectively evoked lightning and a brief stage blackout.

With all the craziness in the World these days, Something’s Afoot is a winning way to spend two hours lost in the mental funhouse of pleasant thought this show presents.

Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

Something’s Afoot plays through June 24, 2017, at The British Players, performing at Kensington Town Hall—3710 Mitchell Street, in Kensington, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (240) 447-9863, or purchase them online.

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