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A CurtainUp Review

Clue: The Musical
By Les Gutman

Clue, the board game, was invented in 1944; it is the world's second best-selling game (after Monopoly). In 1984, its good name was associated with a very bad movie released by Paramount. It has now suffered a second indignity: being associated with an even worse musical.

The musical is hosted by Mr. Boddy (Robert Bartley), who becomes a murder victim during the course of the show. The cast also includes six suspects and a detective (Denny Dillon). In the game, participants choose three cards (without looking at them) to determine (1) who murdered Mr. Boddy, (2) the weapon used and (3) the room in Boddy Mansion where the murder occurred. The game consists of using clues to determine whodunit, where and how. For the show, audience members choose the three cards, and the cast then performs one of the 216 possible scripts, based on the cards chosen. The audience is provided cards and pencils to play along (at least in theory).

A threshold problem is that the audience never has a clue [sorry] what is going on:
  • Is the audience actually supposed to play along? If so, the cards don't make it easy since they aren't set up for keeping track of clues. The clues are often blasted past the audience far too quickly to permit a serious attempt to play. (You quickly stop trying, and just as quickly lose interest.)
  • Does the cast know the correct answer? Since the cast is not shown the cards before they are put in a confidential envelope, this creates a diverting "mystery" of its own.
  • What is the purpose of the singing and dancing? Are there clues in them? If not, why are they in the show?
Without understanding the premise of the show, it is be hard for the audience to be entertained, even under the best of circumstances.

The circumstances are far from the best.

The music is inoffensive but lacks any semblance of creativity. The lyrics, on occasion, rise above the music, but not much. There are a few traces of cleverness or creativity, but they are fleeting. Mostly, the lyrics are banal and, more than anything else, lazy. The dialogue, most of which consists of particularly insipid jokes that conjure up grunts and groans rather than laughs, is tedious and, as noted, unhelpful in understanding the show.

The directing accentuates the above. Choices are towards one-dimensional campiness, overpostured silliness and hamming. The staging is mostly on the level of a high school skit. (One exception is the staging of "Corridors and Halls," a song during which the suspects and victim slink through the shadows and after which the murder occurs.)

The result of the above has to be demeaning for the actors. (You can only assume they really mean it when they sing a song called "Don't Blame Me" late in the show.) I can vouch for two of the actors, and can make assumptions about the abilities of at least one other. Seeing Denny Dillon's Tony-nominated performance in My One and Only and her season on "Saturday Night Live" in no way prepared me for her embarrassing display here, and I can't imagine it was her choice. Her instincts are much better than that. Likewise, Robert Bartley's charmingly funny performance in last summer's Gotham! at Goodspeed can't possibly be reconciled with the strait-jacketed idiot into which he was directed here. Wysandria Woolsey's characterization of Mrs. Peacock here no doubt reflects an ability to follow bad directions well, but not any of the talent that landed her in substantial roles in the Broadway casts of shows like Phantom of the Opera, Aspects of Love or Chess.

The set design is excellent, suggesting the game board and also including several creative rolling columns that figure prominently in the fluidity of the setting and the aforementioned staging of "Corridors and Halls". The fact that this excellent work is uncredited makes one wonder at least if the set designer didn't insist that his or her name be disassociated from this unworthy project.

Oh, I almost forgot two more things: Time: a seemingly endless, intermissionless 90 minutes; tickets: a whopping $45. Not even a bargain at half the price.

The show posted a closing notice a week after it opened--took down the closing notice and then disappeared after 17 previews and 29 performances.
by Peter DePietro, Tom Chiodo, Galen Blum, Wayne Barker and Vinnie Martucci 
Directed by Peter DiPietro 
starring Denny Dillon and Robert Bartley 
Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street (212) 239-6200 
Opened 12/3/97; reviewed 12/04/97

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