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 Wednesday, Dec. 11, the 345th day of 2013. There are 20 days left in the year. 1863 — 150 years ago: The message of Abraham Lincoln, read in congress yesterday, is published in full in our paper today, with a new proclamation relating the terms upon which states can return to the union. 1888 — 125 years ago: An appropriation has been made by congress for the improvement of the upper Mississippi River with $200,000 set aside for the portion of the river between Keokuk and the mouth of the Illinois River. 1913 — 100 years ago: Work of remodeling First Swedish Lutheran Church at 4th Avenue and 14th Street was nearly completed. 1938 — 75 years ago: An unexplained outbreak of tularemia (rabbit fever) in the state has Illinois public health officials puzzled. Ten persons have died, and 243 are officially reported ill with the infection. 1963 — 50 years ago: A dramatic, multi-million dollar riverfront improvement project for the downtown area of Rock Island was unveiled at a meeting of 200 civic leaders at noon today. 1988 — 25 years ago: For several supporters of the Dispatch Goodfellow/Argus Santa program their donation is a year long project. Emma Pugh and Anne Persinger spent a good part of their spare time this year knitting forty pairs of mittens and slippers.