Something’s Afoot

Billed as a “parody” of British murder mysteries, the Grand Theatre’s production of the Broadway flop “Something’s Afoot” seems to be more interested in retelling those old stories than in making fun of them.

The musical is set on a dark and stormy night in a secluded mansion owned by an eccentric millionaire. Lord Rancour, whom we never see, has invited six guests for the weekend, most of whom, along with the hired help, start getting killed. The question is, which of the 10 people present is responsible for the murders?

Based loosely on Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians,” this version could aptly be called “Ten Little Idiots.” They mill around, fretting about the murders, making lame accusations at one another, and occasionally bursting into song.

Miss Tweed (Sharon Lynn Kenison) is the amateur sleuth of the bunch, and it is her theories and suspicions that fuel most of the action. Uninvited guest Geoffrey (Mark Gollaher), a college boy, also shows up and begins wooing Hope Langdon (Melinda Cole Welch) — who, we learn, is the illegitimate daughter of two other guests and a possible heir to the Rancour fortune.

There is also, of course, a greedy nephew (Shawn A. Maxfield) and a French woman (Darla Davis). (Well, mostly French. Her accent seems to come and go.)

These are all stock characters, which is perfect for a parody. The problem is, the show is never very pointed in its satire, and one is liable to forget that it’s supposed to be one. Just when you’re getting annoyed by the two-dimensional, generic characters, you remind yourself, “Oh, yeah. It’s a parody. They’re supposed to be like that.” Any show where you have to remind yourself that it’s a parody probably isn’t a very good one.

To its credit, the actors perform with a great deal of enthusiasm and dedication. All are committed to their absurd characters and never let up for a moment.

J. Chad Davis’ set is perhaps the best thing about the show. Its multi-doored, paneled look is perfect, and there are a number of clever booby traps and devices hidden throughout — things fall from the ceiling and pop out of walls; one character is even devoured by a large vase!

The music is mostly forgettable, with only one or two songs standing out, and some of them actually slowing down the action. (For example, 15 minutes are spent at the very beginning just to establish that “we’ve been invited for the weekend.”) Indeed, there’s no reason the show even needed to be a musical — though the lecherous song sung by the caretaker (Neal Barth), “Teeny Little Dingy,” is a naughty gem full of double-entendre, nearly making up for everything else.

The laughs are here, but not in abundance. The show has its moments, and the way it ends is rather daring and unusual — but overall, it’s nothing spectacular. Don’t pass up a chance to see it, but don’t knock yourself out getting there, either.

The biggest laugh in this show was when a woman died while sitting in a chair, and Geoffrey was supposed to roll the chair across the room into the library, where they were stacking the dead bodies. As he pushed her across the stage, she slid out of the chair onto the floor. The actor playing Geoffrey then had to decide how to get her offstage, and he briefly considered just pushing her into the orchestra pit. That brief moment where he thought about doing it was priceless. The rest of the show, well....