The new show at Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse, Rock Island, is the colorful, kooky “Clue: The Musical,” but it’s not meant to be cartoonish.

Director Seth Reines — who hasn’t led a show at Circa since “Kinky Boots” in early 2020 (before COVID shutdowns) — said Wednesday the iconic show, based on the popular board game, is loads of fun and varies each and every performance.

“Clue: The Musical” features Jonathan Chisolm, left, Sam Forgie, John Pickup, Kyle DeFauw, Regina Harbour, Olivia Bleak, and Tristan Tapscott.

“I love coming back to Circa ’21 and I love staying at the Victorian Inn, because they’re friends,” he said, noting he also wanted to escape his home Arizona’s 110-degree heat.

“It’s always fun to be back here; the piece is not a work of art, but it intrigued me because it’s being done all over the country,” Reines said of “Clue.” The show is also very interactive for the audience. (It was also done in spring 2018 at Moline’s Black Box Theatre.)

Based on the board game, the musical brings the world’s best-known suspects to life and invites the audience to help solve the mystery: who killed Mr. Boddy, in what room, and with what weapon.

The audience receives forms to help them deduce the solution from clues given throughout the evening. Three audience members choose from cards representing the potential murderers, weapons, and rooms; there are 216 possible solutions, according to a synopsis.

Only one hard-nosed female detective is qualified to unravel the merry mayhem. Comic antics, witty lyrics, and a beguiling score carry the investigation from room to room. Even after the culprit confesses, a surprise twist delights the audience. 

The Circa version has updated the show, including local references, and adding a character at the start of the show.

Sydney Dexter (center, middle row) plays the detective, and is surrounded by Kyle DeFauw, Jonathan Chisolm, Emmett Boedeker, Olivia Bleak, Regina Harbour, Tristan Tapscott, Sam Forgie and John Pickup.

Sydney Dexter (who plays the “non-binary” detective) in the beginning portrays the new “Vanna Black,” so named because there is a Mrs. White character.

“Because of COVID, usually at the top of the show the audience comes up on stage for cards, for the murderer, the weapon and room,” Reines said. “They can’t come up on stage because of COVID.”

Logistically, he needed someone to help Mr. Boddy to give out the cards. “Since Sydney is very versatile and there was no reason not to use in her in Act 1 as another character, it facilitated what needed to be done.”

“She moves scenery, she adds glamour to the first act,” Reines said, adding she and Tristan Tapscott (who plays Mr. Boddy) have a contemporary look. The rest of the company evokes “Agatha Christie at the Met Gala,” the director said.

The Circa set incorporates the Clue board; each character represents a different color.

Cast of veterans and newcomers

The show’s dogged detective is played by venue veteran Sydney Dexter from “Disenchanted!” and “Seussical,” with the six recognizably color-coded suspects including Olivia Bleak as Miss Scarlet, Jonathan Chisolm as Mrs. White, Kyle DeFauw as Mr. Green, Sam Forgie as Professor Plum, Regina Harbour as Mrs. Peacock, John Pickup as Colonel Mustard and Emmett Boedeker as the Piano Player.

OIivia Break (a 2021 Manhattan School of Music grad), front, is featured in “Clue” with (from left) Kyle DeFauw, Jonathan Chisolm, John Pickup, Regina Harbour and Sam Forgie.

Frequent Circa performer Tristan Tapscott portrays the doomed Mr. Boddy and area favorite Ron May serves as musical director.

Pickup is a British native, grew up in Australia, and has lived in New York City the past decade.

Col. Mustard is the stiff, upright, stiff-upper-lip British military man – “my great-grandfather come back to life,” Pickup said Wednesday. His mother was in the British Army, and he has other relatives who were military. Pickup’s father actually worked as a driver for Princess Anne.

“I came from a very structured household,” he said. Queen Elizabeth II died last week during their rehearsals. “Clue” has just been in rehearsals since Sept. 1 and had the staff preview on Tuesday night, Sept. 13.

The “Clue” characters are literally colorful – eccentric, unique.

Regina Harbour and John Pickup in “Clue.”

“The nice thing about the show is, there are no preconceived notions,” Reines said. “It’s not like the audience comes in expecting this particular approach to the role. Each one, they’ve made it their own.”

Miss Scarlet (with a black wig) is a riff on Harley Quinn – “a little off her rocker,” Bleak said, not blonde eye candy. The character is a dark brunette in the board game.

“It has to contrast with the blonde (hair) of Mrs. White and the red of Mrs. Peacock,” she said.

The musical numbers do not differ from performance to performance, but there can be dialogue changes every show.

“We all have our confessions at the end, if we have done it, so that’s a little extra,” Pickup said. “That’s the main big change, and there are extra parts of your scenes.”

Both have never done “Clue” before, but Bleak loved it when she saw a production while in high school in St. Augustine, Fla.

Olivia Break, in real life, is making her Circa ’21 debut.

“I love murder mysteries,” she said Wednesday. This is Pickup’s first dinner theater, and Bleak has done three shows at a dinner theater in Jacksonville, Fla. She holds a Bachelor of Music in Musical Theatre degree from The Manhattan School of Music (done in 2021).

Overcoming COVID in theater

“I had to finish school online. It was very sad,” Bleak said, noting in 2020 she was in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” at school. They had to have rehearsals over Zoom and film herself performing for a virtual production.

“I blocked it out of my mind because it was so traumatic,” she said. “My sister had to do the whole tripod setup for me to perform in front of a camera. We had to set up our own studio. We had to record the songs and I had to film myself lip-synching the songs in front of the camera. It was the worst.”

“We did the production, and it looked really good in the editing,” said Bleak, who was an opium den dancer in “Drood.”

During the pandemic, Pickup taught ballet over Zoom, for students age 6 to 17. “I felt horrible for the children, because they were in school all day on Zoom, and they have to come dance with me on Zoom,” he said.

John Pickup (center in yellow) is British, and plays Col. Mustard in the show.

He choreographed “Clue” for Circa, including a big Andrews Sisters-style number, of which Bleak is the star.

Pickup’s first in-person post-COVID show was “Addams Family,” playing Lurch, at a theater in Plymouth, Mass., in September 2021. He did the show again in New Jersey this past summer.

Bleak’s first show back post-COVID was “Sound of Music,” at the Alhambra Theatre in Florida, in August 2021. She did three shows in a row, through the last holiday season, then didn’t have a job for over six months.

Her last show was a version of “A Christmas Carol,” with new songs, in Jacksonville. That was 10 performances a week for two months.

“That was brutal – you’re in Florida, where it’s warm and you’re in these heavy wool, long outfits,” Bleak said.

Since pre-COVID, everyone seems more passionate about the work, she said.

Jonathan Chisolm, left, and Sam Forgie.

“We have a passion again and a hunger to tell stories,” Bleak said. “You never really know when the next gig is, so when you get it, you really cherish it and your time there.”

“There’s more a sense of gratitude coming back to work now,” Pickup said. “Live theater took the biggest hit out of all the arts.”

‘Perfect for dinner theater’

Jonathan Chisolm plays Mrs. White, not as a man in drag, but it is written in the show as male playing female.

“It’s different humor, though, and it’s in different places,” Reines said of Chisolm, who plays White as a woman. “It balances out what we’re trying to do with the show, better than putting a drag queen on stage.”

“It’s gonna be fun for the audience,” Pickup said. “It’s perfect for dinner theater.”

The female characters (front) are played by Jonathan Chisolm, left, Olivia Break, and Regina Harbour.

“We didn’t want them to be cartoon characters,” Reines said. “If the audience doesn’t care about the characters, they’re not as invested in it. Each of the actors has found a reality to base it on, so it’s a heightened reality, yes. It has slapstick moments in it, but it’s not what I call ‘scratch and sniff’ theater.”

“It’s very witty, fast-paced,” Bleak said. “One could argue that comedy is harder than drama.”

Reines said the script is very wordy, with lots of patter. Pickup and Bleak have added more depth to the characters often in non-verbal expressions.

“You find a physical space to make him real,” he said, noting Mustard believes what he says “110 percent.”

Bleak’s costume is modest and she does not reference her sex appeal.

“She has deeper levels,” she said of Scarlet. “She doesn’t say much, but when she does, there’s a purpose for it. She has a history of being a showgirl, being objectified, and kind of being a maneater, so to speak.”

“She’s smart enough to have made the change, and she’s conscious enough to have changed to this other persona,” Reines said.

“Hopefully, people are gonna want to come back, because it’s going to be different each time,” he said of the show. “I guarantee that every time they come back, they’ll catch little moments they missed. These guys have filled every single moments with other little moments.”

Bleak said a fun feature is even when an actor isn’t picked as the killer, they try to throw the audience off by acting suspiciously. “I’m looking extremely guilty, even though I’m not the murderer,” she said.

A challenge is, as actors, they keep characters not knowing as much as the actual actors know, Reines said.

“It’s a show that, we did put it up really fast,” he said. “The audiences are gonna tell us a lot about what might work.”

Warm QC welcome

Bleak has already been impressed with how welcoming the Circa and QC community is.

“I’ve never traveled to do a show, since I was in school for so long,” she said of her two-year associate’s degree in Florida, and four-year bachelor’s in New York. “I’ve been welcomed by all these nice people and this beautiful theater. I’ve never worked in a theater this grand.

“It’s just the best,” Bleak said of Circa. “I don’t consider it dinner theater versus regular. I consider it all amazing, professional work.”

Reines (who also directed “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Phantom” at Circa) said it’s not a dinner theater – “it’s theater where dinner is served.”

A “Sweeney Todd” reference in the show, reflected by Olivia Bleak and Kyle DeFauw.

Since “Clue” is interactive, it’s different than a more passive audience experience. “The fourth wall is broken the minute the actors get on stage,” Reines said of speaking to the audience.

“Clue” includes some brief homages to other musicals, like “Les Miserables” and “Sweeney Todd.”

“Clue” will be presented at Circa ’21 (1828 3rd Ave., Rock Island) through Nov. 5, with performances on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 5:30 p.m. and Wednesday matinées at 1:15 p.m. Pre-show entertainment featuring the theater wait staff, the Bootleggers, also will precede all performances.

Ticket prices are $58.55 for the evening dinner-and-show productions and $51.73 for the matinées. Reservations are available through the Circa ’21 ticket office or by calling 309-786-7733 ext. 2. For information on all upcoming shows and concerts, visit the Circa website.