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Wednesday, August 5, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Review: Strong Civic Theatre cast carries uneven ‘Clue’

In the back of the programs for Spokane Civic Theatre’s new production of “Clue: The Musical,” there’s a page of grids and boxes that asks, “Can you solve the mystery before our detective?” Just like in the classic Parker Brothers board game, a murder has been committed, and it’s up to us to determine the who, the where and the how: There are six suspects, six possible weapons and six potential locations, and we’re supposed to take notes that will help us deduce the identity of the culprit.

That’s the niftiest invention of the show, directed by Keith Dixon, which, while not a particularly memorable piece of theater, has a lot of goofy energy. It’s set, as these types of stories always are, in a creaky, old mansion where a dinner party is being thrown. Mr. Boddy (Ben Dyck) is our host, and he announces from the get-go that he’ll soon be murdered by one of his guests. The show isn’t so much about who eventually kills him, but rather who will get to him first.

Each of our six suspects, taken right from the game, is prime murderer material. Mrs. Peacock (Danielle Read) has recently made Mr. Boddy her sixth husband, and the five previous spouses have all died under mysterious circumstances. Professor Plum (David McCarthy) and Mr. Green (Cecil Trail) are Boddy’s business associates who have been swindled out of large fortunes.

Miss Scarlet (Jacklyn Herzog) is a former flame who has similarly had money stolen from her. Colonel Mustard (Daniel Griffith) is the rightful owner of Boddy Manor and suffers from violent tendencies and a strange disorder that causes him to mistake people for inanimate objects. Mrs. White (Troy Heppner) is Boddy’s disgruntled maid who is tired of being disrespected by her vainglorious employer.

At the end of the show’s first act, Boddy winds up dead, and the solution to the mystery won’t come about easily. It’s all very similar to Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap,” and much like that long-running theater staple, “Clue” introduces an investigator (Kristen Nauditt) to sniff out evidence and piece it all together in the second half. The identity of the killer doesn’t really matter, of course – just like in the game, random cards are placed into a sealed envelope at the start of the show that will determine the solution – but the script does have a few more twists up its sleeve in its final minutes.

“Clue: The Musical” is built around what is essentially a one-joke premise – the characters are aware they’re merely pieces on a board game, which leads to a lot of groan-worthy puns regarding “Sorry,” “Life” and “Monopoly” – and it’s a gimmick that’s not quite as fresh as the authors seem to think it is. (References to Suzanne Somers and Ted Kennedy are also very stale, despite the program’s insistence that the play’s setting is “now.”) None of the songs are particularly memorable, either, and many of them feel overworked without ever finding a satisfying musical hook (the music and lyrics are credited to four different writers).

But if the material isn’t all that strong, Dixon’s cast is. I particularly liked Trail’s take on Mr. Green, a get-rich-quick entrepreneur (his business ideas include a men’s club called Babethoven’s and the discount airline Pennies in Heaven) who is too stupid to realize he shouldn’t be half as arrogant as he is. Heppner’s work as Mrs. White also is inspired: The role was designed to be played by a man, but Heppner doesn’t make that basic casting conceit into an easy joke (he gets most of the show’s best verbal gags, too).

“Clue: The Musical” is worth seeing for no other reason than watching its cast have a blast with their (literally) colorful roles, even if the musical score occasionally lets them down (the entire run of the show, however, has already sold out). Because the actors aren’t afraid to look ridiculous, they help in keeping the show zipping along, especially during moments of broad physical comedy. It’s just silly enough that it may inspire you to dust off your copy of the Clue board game when the show is over.

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