From left to right:Jillian Prefach, J.R. Stuart, and Brittany Cox. Photo: DDP

Clue: The Musical

Book by Peter DePietro
Music by Galen Blum, Wayne Barker and Vinnie Martucci, Lyrics by Tom Chiodo
Based on the Parker Brothers’ Board Game
Produced and Directed by Lee Buckholz

A review by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2021, by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

Let me clear up one thing right off the bat. If you are expecting to go to Derby Dinner and see a musical version of the 1985 murder mystery comedy film Clue, you will be extremely disappointed. What is currently treading the boards at the Playhouse is an original musical based on the same board game the movie took inspiration from, and the approach and results are oceans apart.

Full disclosure: I attended DDP’s first production of the show several years ago and was not a fan. I wasn’t sure if it was the material or the production then, but now after seeing this new iteration with a completely different production team, I am convinced that the show itself is just not a good one.

That is no fault of the director, cast, or crew this time out. Every performance is top-notch, the set design (by director Lee Buckholz) is a clever evocation of the game’s board, and the costumes (by Sharon Murray Harrah) beautifully evoke classic Agatha Christie-style whodunnits. Buckholz keeps the show flowing without losing a step, and Heather Paige Folsom’s choreography is energetic and fun.

Where the show stumbles in the writing, both in the script and the songs. One unfunny clunker of a joke after another lands with a thud, and you won’t remember a single melody from any of the songs five minutes after you’ve heard them.

All of the board game’s characters are brought to life here, and represented by the appropriate colors: Mrs. Peacock (Jillian Prefach), Mrs. White (a fun drag performance credited to Crystilla J’Bryan), Miss Scarlet (Brittany Carricato Cox), Mr. Green (Blake Graham), Colonel Mustard (J.R. Stuart), Professor Plum (Zach Perrin), and, in a quite expanded role, Mr. Boddy (Bobby Conte). In the second act, we are also introduced to The Detective (Harli Cooper), here to solve the crime.

The first act sets up the crime, as the doomed Mr. Boddy narrates and presents the clues up until his ultimate demise at the end of the act. In a clever conceit, the show follows the game by drawing three cards at random at the top of the show (one for the murderer, one for the weapon, and one for the location), setting up 216 possible endings of the show. Unfortunately, knowing that ahead of time means that literally any one of the characters could be the killer, so none of the facts or clues really means anything. That’s another issue I have with the show’s script.

But enough complaining; the show’s saving grace is in its performances. Bobby Conte completely steals the show as the ever-present (even after he’s been killed) Mr. Boddy. His singing voice and acting inflections ooze culture and sophistication and he’s a pleasure to watch every time he appears on stage. J.R. Stuart provides the only real laughs in the show as the gung-ho and very horny Colonel Mustard. The writers clearly loved this character, and Stuart sells it with his usual comic skill. Jillian Prefach is also in fine form as the black widow Mrs. Peacock, and Zach Perrin is a hoot as the buttoned-up Professor Plum.

Overall, this cast and crew, and indeed, the Playhouse itself, deserve better material than this. But, they have certainly made the most with what they have to work with!

A last note: I was curious how a live performance could go on during a time of pandemic when we are required to cover our faces in public. Being the first live show I have seen in a year, I was a little concerned when the opening act, The Footnotes, performed with black masks over their mouths and noses. There was no way to see their faces, and therefore, get any visual emotional cues, and I was afraid it didn’t bode well for the show to come. I was relieved then, when the actual show started, to see that the cast was wearing transparent face shields instead of the masks. It wasn’t ideal, and yes it was distracting at first, but I got used to it eventually. I applaud Derby Dinner for thinking outside the box!

Featuring Bobby Conte, Harli Cooper, Brittany Carricato Cox, Blake Graham, Crystilla J’Bryan, Zach Perrin, Jillian Prefach, & J.R. Stuart.

Clue: The Musical

Mar 31, 2021 – May 09, 2021

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, Indiana 47129

Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director, and producer for more than 14 years. In June 2019 he launched a new company with Jeremy Guiterrez, Theatre Reprise. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006 and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.