It’s pretty rare that you have homework while watching live theater. But then, “Clue: The Musical” is not your typical show.
The literally colorful, wacky musical — in a new, boisterous production at Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse — is very interactive for the audience. (It was also done in spring 2018 at Moline’s Black Box Theatre.) Based on the popular board game, the show brings the world’s best-known suspects to “larger-than-life” 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 by Mr. Boddy (the friendly and super entertaining Tristan Tapscott) throughout the evening.
At the start, three audience members choose from cards representing the potential murderers, weapons, and rooms, and those oversize cards are put in a vault for safe keeping. Apparently, there are 216 possible solutions to the crime.
A lesser crime is figuring out why this bloodless, superficial show is so popular in the first place.
It certainly doesn’t claim to be anywhere near great, memorable theater. It’s two hours of mindless, slapstick fun with six over-the-top characters (with “wardrobe by Crayola,” as mentioned somewhere), but given the intricacies of the bizarre plot, you do have to concentrate and put your mind to it, to win a free ticket, if you guess all three questions. That’s a headache right there.
I literally didn’t care — I just wanted to enjoy an evening out — and that’s part of the problem.
While Circa’s previous wild, wacky show, “Disaster!”, showed off a litany of unforgettable songs (’70s classics) in a forgettable story (with a cast who deserved better), “Clue” flagrantly flaunts truly forgettable songs in a forgettable story, again with a top-notch cast who could use a show that matches their formidable talents.
The Circa version has updated the show, including a few local references, and adding a character at the start of the show — Circa Bootlegger Sydney Dexter as the card-carrying “Vanna Black.” She returns in the second act as a dogged, bob-topped detective, out to solve the mystery.
Tapscott is smooth and dashing as the victim (who doesn’t stay dead in the second half), and is light on his feet dealing with audience members I saw in the Sunday performance. I don’t know if it was an improvised line near the beginning of the show, but his wisecrack — “If you think the jokes are going to get better, they are not” — was a true highlight.
The main color-coded suspects are also played by first-class actors — 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 — plus Emmett Boedeker as the Piano Player, who capably performs on the side of the stage.
Director Seth Reines said before the show: “We didn’t want them to be cartoon characters. 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.”
I’m sorry, but this Circa “Clue” clearly seems cartoonish, cardboard and comprised of obnoxious, self-obsessed characters who are very hard to care about. That’s another form of work we have to do during the show.
Through the highly convoluted plot — interrupted often by Mr. Boddy while house lights come up and we can consult our form — the story points fly fast and thick. Everyone seemingly had a motive for murder. And even after the culprit confesses, there’s a shocking surprise for the audience.
While dialogue and the ultimate killer varies from performance to performance, the songs themselves do not. And though they’re nothing to write home about, the uniformly strong cast sings them with flair, showy style and impressive vocal power.
My favorite is one of the shorter selections — the Act II “Seduction Deduction,” a cute tango between Dexter as Detective and Forgie as Plum. Each actor also imbues his or her role with boundless enthusiasm; tops in this regard are DeFauw as the slimy capitalist Green; Chisolm as the cynical, snarky White; and Pickup as the snooty, upper-crust Mustard.
Pickup also doubles as the choreographer; Bradley Jensen shines as the costume designer, and scenic designer Becky Meissen deserves credit for creating the literal board game on stage. A huge board (with highlighted six rooms) is the backdrop, and there are two oversized black dice.
“Clue” will run at Circa (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 wonderful wait staff, the Bootleggers, also will precede all performances — with an overview of highlights from the 2023 season.
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.