Review: Something’s Afoot (Citadel Theatre)

     
     

Who dunnit? Who cares?

     
     

The cast of Citadel Theatre's "Something's Afoot" - Kate Andrulis, Sarah Breidenbach, Christopher Davis, Ed Kuffert, Mario Mazzetti, Debra Criche Mell, Dennis Murphy, Gerald Nevin, Ellen Phelps and Andrew J. Pond

  
Citadel Theatre Company presents
   
  
Something’s Afoot
   
 
Book, Music, and Lyrics by James McDonald,
David Vos and Robert Gerlach
Additional music by
Ed Linderman
Directed by Wayne Mell
at Citadel Theatre, Lake Forest, IL  (map)
through June 5  |  tickets: $32-$35  |  more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

Citadel Theatre clearly has the resources necessary to be a noteworthy professional theatre company in the Chicago area. One instant example of the potential capability of this company is Robert Estrin’s well-designed set. It is impressively built and fills the space perfectly, clueing the audience into the classic English murder mystery style play we’re about to see. It extends nicely outward to give a semi-thrust to the space. I was ready for something akin to The Mystery of Irma Vep, but was quickly disappointed. What Citadel is apparently lacking is the correct caliber of artistic personnel to take the company beyond a community theater on a performance level. Their new 150-seat theatre would be the envy of several companies in the city. However, with director Wayne Mell’s current production of Something’s Afoot, this company’s weaknesses are on display more than its strengths.

A scene from Citadel Theatre's "Something's Afoot", directed by Wayne Mell.Something’s Afoot was written in 1972 as an American musical spoof of the British murder mystery genre, particularly Agatha Christie. We begin the play by meeting the maid, Lettie (a comically talented Kaitlyn Andrulis). Lettie, along with the butler Clive (Dennis Murphy) and the handyman Flint (Edward Kuffert), welcome all of the house guests to the estate of Lord Rancour on a stormy night with effective lighting by Deb Holmen. Each individual enters and embodies a different stereotype, including the young ingénue Hope (played by Sarah Breidenbach with the loveliest voice in the show), the flamboyant nephew Nigel (Mario Mazzetti), the eccentric modern major Col. Gillweather (sharply played by Andrew J. Pond), the Martha Stewart of detectives Miss Tweed (Debra Criche Mell) and more.

One by one they drop. Who is the killer? This spoof doesn’t play out quite as fun as it should with some of the songs bordering on pointlessly halting the show. However, other numbers, such as the first act’s “Something’s Afoot,” manage to further the plot and entertain. As a whole, the cast is underwhelming and at times cringe-worthy in their vocals and harmonies. Luckily, there are a few talented comedic actors who give the evening a handful of laughs. Pond is a standout, giving one of the more polished comedic performances of the evening. His death-by-poison bit is one of a handful of solid laughs in the show. Kuffert’s performance in the song, “Dinghy” is another highlight.

The ending of this parody in many ways pulls the rug out from under you. However, I don’t think Mell’s production quite earns the ironic ending because the rest of the play truly needs to be sharp and much quicker paced in order to achieve the intended effect of having the bottom drop out. Instead, this ensemble and production largely clunks its way to the ending revelation. Marianne L. Brown’s choreography often comes off as forced and robotic. The tap dancing is evidently beyond the cast’s skill level and rather plays as amateurish.

The cast of Citadel Theatre's "Something's Afoot" - Kate Andrulis, Sarah Breidenbach, Christopher Davis, Ed Kuffert, Mario Mazzetti, Debra Criche Mell, Dennis Murphy, Gerald Nevin, Ellen Phelps and Andrew J. Pond

Although serving the northern suburb community, as a Chicago area theatre Citadel must be considered alongside all of the amazing theatres in the city, meaning a show in the farther suburbs must be well worth the trip to recommend. Overall, Mell’s direction is too unpolished, overly presentational and unspecific. While I am usually apt to forgive a few performance mishaps, the performance I attended had a plethora of line flubs, technical jams and one long awkward pause where two actors stood like deer in headlights waiting for the sound operator to find their cue on the recorded soundtrack (another reason why you shouldn’t do a musical if you can’t get live musicians). It may have been an “off-night,” but with more dedication and professional artists involved those happen less, and would help distinguish Citadel from community theater and allow them to be on the same stage with the best of Chicagoland’s companies.

  
  
Rating: ★½
  
  

The cast of Citadel Theatre's "Something's Afoot" - Kate Andrulis, Sarah Breidenbach, Christopher Davis, Ed Kuffert, Mario Mazzetti, Debra Criche Mell, Dennis Murphy, Gerald Nevin, Ellen Phelps and Andrew J. Pond

Citadel Theatre’s production of Something’s Afoot continues through June 5th, with performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $35 ($32 for students and seniors). The space is located at the Lake Forest High School West Campus, 300 S Waukegan Road. Tickets can be purchased by phone (847-735-8554) or online. For more information, visit citadeltheatre.org.

  
  

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REVIEW: The Wind in the Willows (City Lit Theater)

 
 

Another triumph in Toad Hall

 
 

Wind in the Willows - City Lit Theater

  
City Lit Theater presents
   
  
The Wind in the Willows
  
Written by Kenneth Grahame
Adapted and Composed by
Douglas Post
Directed by
Terry McCabe
at
City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through Jan 9  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

You can never weary of a good old friend. This is the latest of many times that The Wind in the WillowsDouglas Post‘s delightful musical play based on Kenneth Grahame’s beloved animal fantasy – has trod the boards (its first, 1983 version was called “Toad of Toad Hall”). City Lit’s last revival was only last year.

With each mounting, it’s increasingly obvious how faithful Post’s supple score and rollicking "story theater" script remain to the strengths of Grahame’s beloved tale, particularly the author’s delight in the English countryside and its evergreen changes of season. The animals are perfect British stereotypes, especially Toad’s upper-class twit, as is the class consciousness that pits the underclass of the Wild Wood (weasels, stoats, and ferrets) against the more civilized creatures of the riverbank and underground.

The story, you might recall, concerns the much tested friendship of the plucky Water Rat, gentle Mole, and gruff Badger for Grahame’s most whimsical creation, the self-inflated Mr. Toad (a very spoiled animal who grew up scarcely changed). A creature of unbridled appetite and nettled by a boundless ego, Toad is always hot after some new obsession, particularly motorcars, which he loves to steal and wreck. His loyal if frustrated friends break their brains trying to save him from himself, even when it means an intervention right out of A&E. They must rescue his elegant Toad Hall from the weasels, stoats, and ferrets who infest it when Toadie is incarcerated. Only after his friends’ concerted effort does Mr. Toad learn some late humility. (But how long until the next obsession?)

Ranging from honest Sondheim ”homage” (the Wildwooders’ "Down with the Toad") to the tenderness of the "My Home" ballad sung by a homesick Rat and Mole, Post’s score (nicely sung against a recorded accompaniment) supports its story splendidly. Terry McCabe

 serves it equally well as director of a revival that spins its tale with inexhaustible grace and charm (though the scene containing the mystical "Song of the Piper," however rich with Grahame’s love of nature, doesn’t fit the story). But the lovely “Christmas Carol, sung by the field mice, hedgehogs, mole, rat and otter, is a perfect holiday touch.

Alan Donahue’s set is redolent of giant cattails sewn together with patches of an earth-colored quilt, and with the British accents accurately in place, Post’s recipe loses none of its flavor. Tom Weber delivers sturdy work as the water-loving Rat who’s plucky, resourceful and the ultimate friend in need. An enchanting portrayal, Catherine Gillespie‘s Mole is full of wonderment at the great world above ground. Though lacking the critter’s usual Scottish accent, Edward Kuffert‘s Badger well conveys the elder animal’s irascible dignity, tough love and no-nonsense common sense, and Sean Knight is a funny and spirited duffer as good old Otter.

But the ongoing pleasure remains Mr. Toad, and in this revival Ed Rutherford , his rubber face conveying all the devious intensity of this paragon of pomposity, has made the role all his own. Children love his hammy selfishness and adults will see in Toad no small amount of human

”déjà vu”. Mr. Toad is forever.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Citi-Lit Theater logo

Production Artists

 

Ensemble

Kate Andrulis, Sarah Bright, Jessica Lauren Fisher, Catherine Gillespie, Sean Knight, Edward Kuffert, Aaron Lawson, Brian LeTraunik, Lauren Noelle Morgan, Shawn Quinlan, Lauren Romano, Ed Rutherford, and Tom Weber

Wild In The Willows logoProduction Team

The musical arrangements are by Kevin O’Donnell with additional vocal arrangements by Andra Veils Simon, musical direction by Nick Sula, and choreography by Andrew Waters

The designers are Matthew Cummings (props), Alan Donahue (set), Sarah Hughey (lighting), and Ricky Lurie (costumes).