Somethings Afoot Picture

Review of Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre Presentation of Something’s Afoot

Last night I had the pleasure of attending another energized opening night at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. The 5th’s opening night crowds exude warmth and welcome. Many of the theater goers come to not only enjoy, but thoroughly root for Seattle musical theater. Sure, there are some less enthusiastic plus ones who’ve been dragged along with their significant others to enjoy the benefits of a sponsor’s complimentary ticket perk, but for the most part, the room is full of people who love Seattle’s vibrant and thriving theater culture. 

On opening night, when the curtain rises, there will be several hoots and hollers and every artistic achievement of the night will receive a generous response, from robust laughter to loud applause to sustained standing ovations before a happy mass of humanity briskly walks to their cars, determined to beat the inevitable parking garage traffic jams. The exuberance of opening night crowds, full of smiling people imbibing wine from plastic sippy cups, can make even the most mundane musical experience enjoyable.

Last night I had the privilege of experiencing Something’s Afoot, a comedic murder mystery in the stylings of an exaggerated Agatha Christie novel set to music with a healthy amount of song and dance. The program proports Something’s Afoot to be “…a musical spoof that takes a satirical jab at whodunit murder mysteries.” However, the reality of the musical is a bit more tame. The fact that “zany” is left out of the description might give us a clue to the motivating force behind this production. It’s frequently funny, frequently pleasing, but also a bit safe. Some musicals stay with you, they reverberate in your imagination long after you’ve departed the theater. Others are enjoyable but have little resonance beyond the event. I enjoyed Something’s Afoot, but I found the show lacked the necessary elements to be a truly great musical or to stick with me much beyond the event itself. 

Something’s Afoot is well done. It’s funny; full of cleaver songs, cute dance numbers, humorous comedic moments, and a good dose of satisfying murder. In fact, murder is the greatest strength of the show. I mean, who doesn’t love a really good comedic murder. If you love murder or want some creative ideas on how to murder, it’s the show for you! 

The ensemble performers embody their characters well. Particular praise to Sarah Rudinoff as Miss Tweed, who anchors the show with her ebullient quirky sleuthing ways and engagingly jolly song and dance numbers. She leads us through the mystery and the musical with a tour guide joy that makes us want to follow. I just thoroughly loved her performance.

The rest of the cast do well to bring their murder mystery cliché characters to life. However, the one dimensionality of each character grows a bit tiring. Something’s Afoot does not have many character arcs. Everyone stays pretty much the same, at least in the context of their personae. The surprise revelations of Something’s Afoot revolve around the plot, not character development. I would have given the lack of character development a pass if the comedy had been a bit more of a spoof.

Exaggerated, one dimensional caricatures can serve a spoof nicely. However, Something’s Afoot is tame as a spoof. For the most part, Something’s Afoot follows safe comedic waters. For me, the best spoofs or overtly comedic musicals, take comedic risks, even to the point of absurdity. We see some of this absurdity in the murder aspect of the presentation, but I still feel the musical needed more “zany” moments and less grounding in traditional murder mystery tropes. 

There isn’t a profoundly memorably absurd character or scene in the musical. And although the numbers are catchy and clever, they just don’t stay with you afterwards. Probably the most memorable song revolves around a perpetually sexually harassing character alluding to the size of his penis. I’m sorry, but I just don’t laugh much at sexual harassment these days. It would have been nice to have one ridiculously out of place song, with a call back from a character that was markedly different from the rest of the characters in the show. The familiarity of everything ultimately flattens the overall effect of the show.

In this short review, I could have stuck with praising the consistently pleasant and frequently humorous aspects of Something’s Afoot. Yet, I felt I needed to express how I was left wanting something just a little bit more bold, dangerous, innovative, or even absurd from the production. For example, the title of the musical is Something’s Afoot, which is a title ripe for a good pun or a ridiculous double meaning moment. In the hands of Monty Python, the lead sleuth would have used the phrase “something’s afoot” more frequently throughout the musical, only to hold up a disembodied foot sometime late in the show, possibly after an explosion. Someone in the cast would have asked her what she was holding in her hand, and she would have said, “A foot!”

For me personally, a spoof needs to be extremely spoofy and unexpectedly surreal to truly captivate my interest. Consequently, I felt there was something amiss in Something’s Afoot; a pleasant, enjoyable show that could have been so much more. Regardless, if you like comedic murder, you’ll most likely love the show.

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