Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

December 9, 2023

Review: 'Something's Afoot' has axe to grind with murder mystery clichés


(Left to right) Actors Steven Mondloch, Ellenelle Gilliam, Elyssa LeMay, John D’Aversa and Jacob Weidner perform a song from the musical ‘Something’s Afoot.’
Photo by Cam Best.

The spring musical, “Something’s Afoot,” uses dark humor masked by lively musical numbers to abolish clichés found in the popular 1930s whodunit genre.
Just when the plot seems to slide into the comfortable realm of sappy show tunes and happy endings found in many musicals, “Something’s Afoot” takes a dark turn with a sharp punchline.
The cleverly satirical story, impressive acting and remarkable set design all contributed to the musical’s successful opening weekend.
Additional performances are May 9 and 10 at 7:30 p.m. and May 11 at 1:30 p.m. in Potter Theater. Tickets are $14 for adults and $12 for students, faculty and staff.
The musical begins with a trio of less-than-enthusiastic hired hands greeting an eclectic group of guests who are invited to stay at Lord Rancour’s mansion for the weekend.
As the guests enter one by one, the stage immediately transforms into the beginning of an Agatha Christie novel.
Only one song number passes before the guests learn that their host has been murdered, and the butler quickly dies after that.
The remaining residents take it upon themselves to solve the mystery, instantly figuring that the butler did not do it.
The unknown murderer continues to ingenuously kill off the guests one at a time, usually conveniently after the victim finishes a song and dance.
Playfully exaggerated characters, such as the well-traveled Colonel Gillweather played by John D’Aversa, parody the expected members of a classic murder mystery novel.
While every actor brings quick wit and spirited personalities to their satirical characters, the performance by Elyssa LeMay stands out among the rest.
LeMay plays Miss Tweed, a well-read, eccentric dame with a knack for detective work. Her enthusiasm for intrigue guides the other guests’ discovery of the real murderer.
While her detective work may not always lead to the right answers, Miss Tweed’s passion, fueled by a love of Agatha Christie novels, adds humor and direction to the story.
The over-the-top character could have fallen flat without LeMay’s masterful, yet subtle, encapsulation of Agatha Christie herself.
In looks and demeanor, LeMay’s performance is a nod to Christie. Well, more like a Broadway-style song and dance dedicated to Christie, which also actually happens.
There was no weak link among the actors’ portrayal of the inflated characters, despite the quick pace and variety of accents required of the script. The characters’ personalities transposed into each song, as well, making for a fun and charismatic musical.
Jeff Coussens’ innovative and thoughtful direction is present throughout the play, as well as John Pfautz’s musical direction, which could be physically seen at times behind the stage.
A small band, led by Pfautz, fit under the craftily-designed set. Designed as the perfect parody of a mansion found in a mystery story, the set design added to the authenticity of the production.
“Something’s Afoot” misses no opportunity to break down the overdone aspects of stories like that of Agatha Christie but remains entertaining and captivating while doing so.

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Review: 'Something's Afoot' has axe to grind with murder mystery clichés