THEATER REVIEW: “Something’s Afoot” at Welk Resorts

Consider all the creative ways murder mystery novelists have come up with to get rid of characters. Then put your mind into the space that can appreciate lines like “Oh, what a lovely chamberpot” (sung, yet) and you may enjoy Premiere Productions’ “Something Afoot,” playing through Sept. 22 at Welk Resorts Theatre.

Randall Hickman directs (and plays Flint the caretaker) in this goofy 1972 musical spoof of Agatha Christie’s classic “And Then There Were None,” in which ten characters are disposed of one by one.

The script is, well, hokey, the music perky and sometimes fun, the means of death often amusing. Book, music and lyrics were cooperatively written by James McDonald, David Vos and Robert Gerlach.

The plot finds Lord Rancour dead at the beginning, with a whole passel of company just arrived at his estate for “A Beautiful Weekend” – none aware of what’s in store.

First to go is Clive the butler (Douglas Davis, Hickman’s partner at Premiere Productions and in life), who announces the host’s death and dinner in the same breath – and is killed when the staircase he’s standing on explodes.

Calling the cops is not an option – the phone lines have been cut. And the weather has turned so nasty that no one can get out, much less away. So the show’s Miss Marple – elderly amateur sleuth Miss Tweed (Eliane Weidauer) – takes over the investigation.

Next, kindly Dr. Grayburn (Torre Younghans) is asphyxiated when he is tricked into answering a magically appearing “phone” that sprays gas.

It turns out there’s a will to be found and an estate to be awarded to someone, perhaps Lord Rancour’s black-sheep nephew Nigel (Gene Hicks). But why are Colonel Gillweather (Rich LaFetra), Lady Grace Manley Prowe (Sandra Kopitzke) and ingenue Hope Langdon (Karina Gillette) here?And what about that uninvited guest, college student Geoffrey (Charles Evans)?

It’s a curious list of suspects, but one thing is clear: “Something’s Afoot” (and the butler didn’t do it).

This isn’t top-drawer musical comedy – the script is corny, the show flopped on Broadway in 1976, and with intentionally stereotypical characters, proceedings can drag a bit.

But there are compensations: Hickman’s randy Flint and Lisa Laughbaum’s Lettie the maid make more of “The Dinghy Song” than it merits. And Miss Tweed, Hope and Geoffrey do a fine job on the rousing tribute song “I Owe It All” (to Agatha Christie), clearly the best song of the bunch. I hope the opening-night imbalance between Matthew Naegeli’s five-member onstage combo and the singers has been fixed by now.

Kopitzke amuses as Lady Grace, the grande dame with a secret who comes to an electrifying end. Weidauer is suitably nosy as the self-appointed sleuth.

Gillette’s Hope is lovely and sings beautifully. She also shares some nice dramatic and musical moments with Evans’ mysterious interloper Geoffrey.

Hicks is suitably unpleasant as the pretender, Younghans a nice calming presence as the family doctor.

Laughbaum is an amusing Lettie; LaFetra looks right as the Colonel but has a tendency to mumble lines.

Hickman and Davis are reliably excellent in their roles, and Davis’ fine set design works nicely. The other tech elements add to the atmosphere.

It’s a dark, stormy and utterly silly night at Lord Rancour’s place. If you’re in the mood, give “Something’s Afoot” a whirl.

The details

Premiere Productions’ “Something’s Afoot” plays through Sept. 22 at Welk Resorts Theatre San Diego, 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido.

Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 1 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 1 and 8 pm.

Tickets: (888) 802-7469 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.