Don’t let the title fool you; this isn’t a musical, but more like a classic murder mystery film or a rousing game of CLUE.
In the midst of an upstate New York blizzard, a production team gets together to work on their next hit Broadway musical. The writers, director, investor, and actors arrive for rehearsal just in time to be snowed in, and before we know it people start dying. Their last venture was marred by the murder of several chorus girls at the hands of a killer known only as “The Slasher,” and it seems he – or she – is a guest this weekend.
Everyone becomes a suspect as the show unfolds. Identities change and plot twists abound in what could be a solid season opener for LTVB. So how do I review a show like this without giving anything away? Also, what to do when the show is good, but doesn’t quite hit the bulls eye? Simple, I will tell you to buy your tickets and go see it for yourselves.
Director Jeff Seneca highlights the farcical camp without going overboard. He has helmed a very solid production that I’m sure will evolve into a solid comedy as the run progresses. To break from routine, we’ll address the staging before the story, as this is a brilliantly staged production with a formidable team of artists assisting Mr. Seneca. The first thing to mention is the first thing you see upon entering the theatre: a stunning mansion in Chappaqua, New York. Sandy Lawrence has designed one of the most beautiful sets I have seen in Hampton Roads theatre, hands down. The entirety of the play occurs in one room and while the detail is superb, the set’s flowing open configuration allows the actors to move unencumbered. Bookcases and paintings move to reveal secret passages, and I found myself engrossed in the staging, wondering where the next surprise would be coming from. The large number of properties is on point for the time period, and given the vast number of them it speaks to the dedication of props designer Donna Lawheed. I can only imagine how full the prop table is and how difficult it was to find that many items while staying within the time period, but they blended in seamlessly. Excellent.
Kay Burcher captures the look of the time with her costuming, with my two favorite looks being Bernice (played by Leigh Strenger) with her bohemian chic, and Marjorie (Carissa Robertson) in an outlandish skirt suit. Before either actor uttered a vowel or consonant I had an idea of who they are and what part they play in both the story itself and the story structure. The men are all sharply dressed as well, but the ladies shine. I did find myself pondering Elsa’s blue gown, which seems almost 1950’s. It carries an iconic “I Love Lucy” air with it and is absolutely stunning on Karen Buchheim… and while I am no expert on mid-20th century ladies’ attire it seems to toe the line with time period. But overall, Burcher’s work allows each character’s part in the story (and the story-within-the-story) to speak without words and communicate without obstruction; the art of costuming at its finest.
Sound and music tie in perfectly, with a campy theme for the killer recurring throughout the show and sound cues executing with precision. At times I lost some lines and dialogue, and I wonder if floor mics would assist in actors being heard and action being carried more fluidly. Overall, Sound Designer Charles Owrey delivers a technically solid auditory experience. The lighting design of Jessica Hanna is well done, with believable power outages and navigable shadows. The evening glow of the snowstorm coming through the stage right doors is simple, yet wordlessly drives home the setting. Very, very well done indeed.
Leigh Strenger portrays my favorite character, the lyricist Bernice Roth. With a biting tone and propensity to drink, Strenger delivers well-rounded contradictions, sarcasm, and a bevy of stage falls. James Bryan hits a home run as the over the top composer Roger Hopewell. He was the one lead who consistently maintained a level of energy that could serve as a generator for the mansion during the power outages, if not the Southside of Hampton Roads. The character is audaciously written, but Bryan makes him relatable, almost becoming that one flamboyant, over-the-top friend we all have. He pulls the most laughter and steals his scenes not as the lead, but by being that damn good. Bravo sir.
Kylie Wheeler and Josh Hall play Nikki and Eddie, the two struggling artists who serve as the actors for the living-room workshop. Wheeler is perfectly intense as the ingénue, and Hall is eager as the young-and-dumb comedian hoping for a break, and had several good lines and moments. The hints of romantic connection between the two read false though, which was my one ultimate area of issue. I learned after the performance that, due to an injury during rehearsal, Mr. Hall was performing in a knee brace, and I feel this must be noted to commend Mr. Hall as a trooper and the embodiment of one of our oldest adages in theatre: the show must go on. I could tell something was off with his performance though, and I wish Mr. Hall a quick and full recovery and a homerun in the coming performances.
Carissa Robertson was, as her character would put it, “simply de-VOON” in the role of Marjorie, the show’s producer. She brought her performance to the edge of caricature while maintaining believability, and I never had a problem hearing her. And Matt Gilbert is wonderfully self-involved as the show’s director Ken. Karen Buccheim is the aloof and often clueless heiress and financial backer Elsa Von Grossenknueten, and she nails her characters naivety in a way that makes her endearing, especially her interaction and banter with Michael, played by Frank McCaffery. His role was enjoyable, and his accent(s) on point.
Elena Johnson is Helsa the German maid (not to be confused with Elsa… or is it?) and her comedic timing is impeccable. Peyton Creasy does well as Irishman Patrick O’Reilly, and both do well with their accent work. At times some dialogue was muddled and some punchlines lost, but given the physical activity and volume of accent work for these two I have to say well done. The best accent I heard (and there are a lot with this group) was Brooke Beyer as Katarina. All in all, this cast brings home an enjoyable evening of theatre.
Therefore, with such a strong production team and imposing visual upon entering the theatre, I sat excitedly expecting a solid performance to be delivered. Sadly we did not get this on the night I attended, and I can pinpoint the one issue: energy was spotty. With such a convoluted farce the actors need to drive it home with charisma and cohesiveness while navigating the audience through the multiple plot twists. Lines were perfect, but pacing lagged and character connections landed just shy of their marks. A farce like this needs 110%, and our night was about 91. But as I said earlier you should see this show. Every show has “that one performance” that just doesn’t click, and if you’ve ever experienced tech week (or as many theatre junkies lovingly refer to it, “Hell week”) you know the exhaustion these actors were feeling. But I am confident in the caliber of their talent, and this is a brilliantly written farce that I predict will only get stronger. So take an evening and get snowed in with an exceptional production team and some of the best actors in Hampton Roads.
The show runs through October 9. For more info or tickets, here is the LTVB website.