An affectionate spoof of murder mysteries, over-the-top and over-dramatic characters, winning musical numbers, a stylish set and atmospheric lighting effects combine to make Quad-City Music Guild's "Something's Afoot" a pleasant way to pass two hours.
The silly 1972 musical -- which premiered in Atlanta, and played Broadway in 1976 -- is not especially memorable, moving, magical or meaningful. But the Guild's 10-member cast, including many theater veterans, clearly has fun with the material, and their joy and earnest enthusiasm are infectious.
In "Something's Afoot" (simultaneously a satirical poke at Agatha Christie mysteries and a nostalgic salute to them), 10 people are stranded in an isolated 1935 English country house during a raging thunderstorm. One by one, they're picked off by cleverly fiendish devices, and many times we see the victims collapse on stage, so the murderer is truly behind the scenes.
Though I had never heard of this show or any of its songs (there is no singular, breakout number), there is intrinsic interest in its story by virtue of the mystery -- which takes place, of course, on a dark and stormy night.
A game, commanding Sara Nicole Wegener leads the colorful characters as detective Tweed, a tribute to Christie's Miss Marple. The plot of "Something's Afoot" itself borrows from Christie's classic "And Then There Were None" (1939), one of the most popular of all the prolific British author's books.
The boisterous march "Carry On," in which Ms. Wegener inspires other characters to not be afraid, recalls Franklin Delano Roosevelt's famous "We have nothing to fear ..." speech, and the actress -- with her gray wig and matronly bearing -- also evokes Eleanor Roosevelt. Toward the end of Act II, Ms. Wegener pays heartfelt homage to the mystery writer in "I Owe It All" (I especially like the line, "Agatha Christie, I get a bit misty by thinking what I owe you").
Nearly all the actors get a chance to shine, except for Bruce Rickert as butler Clive, and Tom Naab as Dr. Grayburn, who are early victims. Calling to mind the murder-mystery game "Clue," Michael Schmidt is the tough, gruff colonel (in bright red military jacket), who rekindles a 20-year-old romance he had with Lady MP, played by Heidi Pederson.
Their duet, "The Man With the Ginger Moustache" is lovely and sultry, and Ms. Pederson's formerly flat character suddenly comes to vivid life and becomes a different person. She's in love and enthralled.
The primary couple of the musical are real-life husband and wife, Dan and Melissa Pepper, who play Geoffrey and Hope. How cute are they? Previously paired in the musicals "Cinderella" and "Singin' in the Rain," the Peppers add song-filled sugar and spice and everything nice. Ms. Pepper has an irresistible, megawatt smile, and Mr. Pepper naturally is dashing and sympathetic.
They take center stage in the wonderful "I Don't Know Why I Trust You But I Do," and the show finale, "A New Day."
Steve TouVelle, as lecherous handyman Flint, pursues his own love with maid, Lettie (Pami Triebel), and tempts her with his "tiny little dinghy" (it's the topic of a whole song). They long for escape, as do all the characters from the flooded island, which dooms its inhabitants. A flamboyant playboy, Nigel, is played with big gestures by Tommy Ratkiewicz.
"Something's Afoot" is a perfect spring show for Music Guild -- compact in cast, just three musicians in the pit, and a lesser-known piece that deserves attention. First-time director Martha Taylor, who's choreographed many, much larger Prospect Park productions, does a fantastic job leading the actors and creating the right mix of loopy parody with honest emotion. She's wanted to do the show for years after having choreographed it at Alleman High School in 1985.
Her daughter, Kathy, capably takes over choreography and nimbly achieves her goal of having the dance emerge organically and seamlessly from the spoken dialogue. The routines are simple, smooth and assured.Guild veteran Mark Holmes designed and built the impressive set, complete with a realistic-looking fireplace (with flickering flames) and mounted animal heads, and John Weigandt handles the many lighting effects, including the requisite lightning.
I also admired the beautiful painted backdrop (bathed in blue) beyond the estate's door, and the inviting morning light that welcomes the fresh new day at show's close.
If you go
-- What: Quad City Music Guild's "Something's Afoot" -- When: 7:30 p.m. tonight, Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. -- Where: Prospect Park Auditorium, 1584 34th Ave., Moline. -- Tickets: $16 for adults, $11 for children, available at 309-762-6610.
Today is Sunday, March 9, the 68th day of 2014. There are 297 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: Much damage is being done to sidewalks, shade trees, fences and gardens by hogs that are running at large about town. 1889 -- 125 years ago: H.C. Cleveland was elected air knight captain of Rock Island Division Uniform Rank Knights of Pythias. 1914 -- 100 years ago: B.W. Wilson, authority on birds and their habits, spoke at the weekly luncheon at the Rock Island Club. 1939 -- 75 years ago: The famous Dionne quintuplets have been invited to visit King George and Queen Elizabeth in Toronto on May 22, but Papa Dionne thinks their majesties should include the Callander nursery in their tour. 1964 -- 50 years ago: Ever been smothered by funny stuff? Well more than 2,600 people were last night when two boys named Tom and Dick Smothers took a "rocky, twisting road to folk music" in Davenport Masonic Temple. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Moline residents soon may be asked to recycle part of their garbage and might even get paid for it.