By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Depending on the time of year, Broadway Rose is either a big company producing lavish Broadway musicals or a small, intimate company offering quirky and often unknown gems. This season’s latest gem, Whodunit… The Musical, is a real treasure, both as a musical and as a comedy. Broadway Rose Artistic Director Sharon Maroney met playwright Ed Dixon a few years ago, and he pitched his obscure new show to her. She liked it, and the rest will soon be history.
At first glance, Whodunit looks like just another comfortable murder-mystery-musical in an already crowded field. What distinguishes this show is that Dixon’s music, lyrics, and book, in the hands of director Annie Kaiser and a top-flight Broadway Rose cast, simply sparkle with unexpected wit and evoke a steady stream of belly laughs.
The story adheres perfectly to the genre. A spinster aunt and her maid rent a large, old isolated house. They will be joined by a lovely young niece and her friend (who turns out to be a surprise fiancé). With the exception of the butler, the entire household staff has quit, frightened by eerie events that began after the demise of the house’s former master. Mysterious things happen – a dark and stormy afternoon, a face in the window, a burglar who takes nothing and leaves behind a crow bar, a shot in the dark that kills the intruder, another fatal gunshot, and more. It’s happily ever after for all (except the dead guys). Impossibly clichéd, yet impossibly entertaining.
One expects uniform excellence from a Broadway Rose cast, and this show delivers in (Sam) Spades. Two characters, in particular, exceed even our lofty expectations. Jennifer Goldsmith (as Cockney maid Liddy Allen) is too funny for words, and delivers her musical numbers like a true comic diva – somehow managing to skirt “over-the-top” without falling over the edge. Even more surprising is Sean Powell (as fiancé Jack Bailey, in the usually thankless position of male ingenue). He has a spectacular voice and impeccable timing, and he displays remarkable versatility as his character evolves.
The other four major characters (Debbie Hunter as the aunt, Joy Martin as the niece, Thomas Slater as the butler, and Mike Dederian as the detective) more than carry their weight. Hunter and Martin bring strong comedic backgrounds to challenging roles, and prove that classical vocal training does not necessarily conflict with the demands of musical comedy. Dederian’s trench-coated gumshoe skillfully alternates between two modes – the private eye and the wandering eye. The butler gets a lot more latitude; Slater’s expressive face and powerful voice fully exploit the role’s potential.
Music Director Mont Chris Hubbard and his tiny band do full justice to a lively score that explores various musical styles ranging from Sondheim to Gilbert and Sullivan. None of the songs would stand alone, for each supports the story and provides a unique comic touch. We cannot fail to mention the set, which provides an elegant tone akin to Henry Higgins’ study with menacing overtones suited to a Universal Horror picture.
You’ve probably never seen or heard of this show – but trust us. Whodunit is a local premiere that sets the standard for a show that should, in time, become a standard. Go see it.
“Whodunit… The Musical” runs through October 19th at the Broadway Rose New Stage in Tigard. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays – Saturdays, with 2:00 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays.