Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, October 2008

It’s a board game! It’s a musical! Its Clue: The Musical! Which should be titled Eight Actors in Search of a Script…and a Score. Let’s just make that Eight Actors in Search of a Show! There’s lots of talent on stage at the Ghent Playhouse, but no material for them to work with. This show is as two-dimensional and cardboard Parker Brothers board game. What a coincidence.

Theatre and board games. Not a match made in heaven. On stage, screen, and page, people LOVE a good whodunit, so it is no surprise that the board game that originated in Great Britain in 1949 as Cluedo, would have developed a world-wide following and many, many spin-offs and adaptations. Clue: The Musical, which played a mere 29 performances off-Broadway in 1997, is not one of the more successful incarnations. Its popularity with community, regional, and educational theatres is clearly based on the fact that it is community and educationally oriented, and it is squeaky-clean family fun.

Like its source material, Clue:The Musical is a game in which the audience plays along. Three enormous cards – suspect, weapon, and location – are pulled by preselected audience volunteers at the start of the show and placed in an envelope attached to the proscenium arch stage left, where they remain until the finale. Obviously, the remaining cards are tallied off-stage, and the answer is revealed at least to the actor playing Mr. Boddy (Ron Ferrone) whose subsequent lines depend on it.

There are 216 possible outcomes, which means the lines that Mr. Boddy speaks are rarely the same. So it is hardly surprising that Ferrone seems tentative and often confused in his delivery. Neither is it surprising that the pace of the show drags where it might zip if the cast could be more certain of what was about to happen next.

It also means that all the rest of the script and the musical numbers are fairly generic. They can’t hint at any specific conclusion and therefore refer to none.

But they can focus on character, and Clue is full of potentially fun and funny characters, each with plenty of motive to do away with Mr. Boddy. Mrs. White (Mark Schane-Lydon), the overworked, underpaid housekeeper is being blackmailed by the nearly deceased. Mr. Green (John Louis Mayerson), a sleazy conman involved with Mr. Boddy’s shady business ventures, has been outconned. Mrs. Peacock (Johnna Murray), who has recently made Mr. Boddy her sixth husband, prefers being a wealthy widow to a bored housewife. She is partial to not-so-covert flings with Colonel Mustard (Tracey trim), an old flame and forcibly retired military man who wishes Mr. Boddy were dead so he could have Mrs. Peacock all to himself. Miss Scarlet (Stephanie Tanaka) is a former Vegas “performer” who got mixed up in Boddy and Green’s schemes. And Professor Plum (Ed Martin) … well, I never did understand his motive – something to do with corporate funding for higher education – but he gets to wear a really snazzy suit.

Everyone gets a wonderful, witty, color coordinated costume, thanks to talented costumer Joanne Maurer. I loved it when the Detective (Cathy Lee-Visscher) looked the suspects over and asked “Who did your wardrobe – Crayola?”

Director Michael Mensching, who appears as a random and randy sailor found in compromising positions with various of the female characters throughout the show, has worked hard add a layer of foolishness to the proceedings, but he hasn’t gone quite far enough. Lee-Visscher and Murray have proven what goofballs they can be in numerous annual Pantos. Tanaka brings a silly side to her stage sirens. And Mark Schane-Lydon and Trimm just ARE funny people. Ferrone (visit his Web site, or check out his moves on YouTube) is a professional tap dancer and entertainer with 25 years experience all over the world (The London Times called him a "...vaudeville dandy...”) and yet he gets only two scant spotlight moments to show off his footwork and his hat tricks. Why not more?

The show (script, lyrics, score) I didn’t like. The murder mystery game – I enjoyed (I’m not a big murder mystery gal and I confess that I’ve never played Clue.) The cast overall, I liked. I always enjoy Murray and Lee-Visscher and Tanaka. They are talented and attractive ladies with a lot to offier. Trimm and Martin gave solid and enjoyable performances.

Mark Schane-Lydon, who I haven’t seen on stage before, was really delightful as Mrs. White – a role traditionally played by a man in drag. He had a great twinkle in his eye and convinced me that he really was a slovenly and morally lax Cockney lady (I love that Maurer put “Mrs. White” primarily in gray!) He made me laugh. I would love to see him join The Panto-Loons for their annual frolic!

I didn’t enjoy Mayerson at all. He couldn’t sing and either the character he’d created was very likeable, or he isn’t. Either way, I wasn’t having fun while he was on the stage.

Ferrone made a delightfully skeletal and sinuous Mr. Boddy, even though his tremendous talent is wasted here. He frequently flubbed his lines/clues, which detracted from both the theatrical and gaming aspects of the production.

Mike McDermott has designed a colorful set that only works some of the time. Since one of the things you have to deduce is location, it is imperative that the set helps you understand what room you are in. Despite a neat replica of the actual Clue playing board (a friend of mine tells me the coolest thing about the board is that it folds up into a square) around an inner proscenium arch on which the spotlight is supposed to indicate which room is which, the actual proscenium covers the rooms at the top corners and besides, who wants to look at the set when there are people talking and singing on stage?

I confess that I have never played Clue, but I did get the concept here and had some fun mentally eliminating possibilities. The houselights are turned on every time Mr. Boddy delivers a clue, and you get “detective page” and a tiny pencil to jot down your thoughts as you narrow down the suspects. I got as far as it was either Miss Scarlet or Mr. Green with the lead pipe or the wrench…somewhere. And it was Miss Scarlet with the wrench…somewhere. You can see that I remained decidedly vague about location, but I had decided halfway through that I was there as a theatre critic, not an amateur sleuth.

After the answers are revealed, Mr. Boddy invites all the audience members who got it right to stand up. I was an honest soul and stayed seated, but if you enjoy basking in the glow of success and receiving a hearty hand you can go ahead and stand up anyway. No one will ask you to prove that you got it right.

What does it say when I know that the material the Panto-Loons write for themselves will be vastly superior to this “professional” crap? That we should stop being impressed with New York City credentials and trust in our own hearts and minds as to what is good entertainment. I can hardly wait for Jack and the Beanstalk next month.

Clue: The Musical runs weekends through Cotober 26, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., at the Ghent Playhouse, on Town Hall Road just off Rt. 66 next to the fire station. The show runs two hours and twenty minutes with one intermission and is suitable for the whole family. Call the box office at 518-392-6264 for tickets and information.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2008

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