A board game might not seem the likeliest subject for a musical. After all, the precedent setter -- the musical "Chess" -- has had a checkered career.
But the creators of "Clue, the Musical," which is making an enjoyable world premiere at the New Boston Street Dinner Theatre, have done several things right. First, they've found a way to improve the game. And second, they've incorporated a gimmick borrowed from the popular theatrical sub-genre of audience-participation murder mysteries.
As scripted by Peter DePietro (who also directed the production), the improvements include not only bringing the game pieces to life but adding two new characters -- a detective and the murder victim (and narrator), Mr. Boddy.
Best of all, the musical adds an important element the board game lacks -- motive. This, in turn, helps flesh out the characters. For instance, instead of merely determining that the murderer was, say, Mrs. Peacock (Chevy Anz), in the dining room with the candlestick, we discover that Mrs. Peacock is married to Mr. Boddy, and that her previous five husbands all died under mysterious circumstances.
Of course, each of the six suspects has ample reason to kill Mr. Boddy, as we learn in their individual musical numbers. As their victim, Mr. Boddy -- played by a sinister, black-garbed and goateed William Broderick, in one of the show's best performances -- graciously accepts his fate. "Don't look so sad," he tells an audience member. "I live to be killed."
Ironically, one of the most colorful suspects is Mrs. White, Mr. Boddy's overworked, underpaid, slovenly cook and housekeeper. Christine M. Williamson plays her with a Cockney accent and a sense of fiendish glee -- particularly when handling cutlery -- that are undoubtedly indebted to the actress' previous experience portraying a more famous blood-thirsty chef, "Sweeney Todd's" Mrs. Lovett.
Amusing performances are also delivered by Jonathan Hadley as Mr. Green, a wheeler-dealer who'd be right at home selling used cars, and Tiffany Taylor as Miss Scarlet, a woman with a past shared with several of the other characters. Green and Scarlet's pop duet, "Everyday Devices," is one of the catchier numbers in the pleasant score, composed by Galen Blum, Wayne Barker and Vinnie Martucci, with lyrics by Tom Chiodo.
The audience-participation gimmick consists primarily of a trio of volunteers randomly selecting game cards that identify the murderer, the murder weapon and the location of the murder. These cards, oversized replicas of the ones in the board game, are then placed -- unseen by the cast, volunteers or the rest of the audience -- in a large file, to be opened only after Rebecca Fasanello, as the tough-talking, film-noir-style lady detective, announces she's cracked the case.
Thanks to the varied combinations of cards, the solution can take hundreds of forms -- that's what keeps people playing the game. The 1985 Paramount Pictures version handled this in a rather wimpy manner -- releasing the movie with three different, and not equally satisfactory, endings. On stage, however, playwright DePietro has come up with something more clever, which I'm certainly not going to divulge here. (It would help, though, if he clarified some of the first-act exposition.)
David R. Zyla's costumes add to the fun. I especially liked Mr. Green's green wingtips and Mrs. Peacock's turquoise nail polish. This attention to detail carries over to the fine work of the show's instrumental duo, led by J. David Skouson on keyboards.
Both playwright/director DePietro and lyricist Chiodo have fashioned mystery scripts before, which helps explain the facility they've brought to this one. Their ambitions for "Clue" include taking it off-Broadway early next year. The mystery of whether they'll succeed will partly be solved by seeing if they can attract audiences to this out-of-the-way dinner theater in a hotel attached to a bus station in southeast Baltimore. Even the mid-week matinee I attended attracted a small following, so who knows? These Boston Street newcomers may have found the clue to "Clue."
"Clue, the Musical"
Where: The New Boston Street Dinner Theatre, 5625 O'Donnell St.
When: 8:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays (doors open at 6:30 p.m. for cocktails and dinner); 3 p.m. Sundays (brunch at 1 p.m.), selected 1 p.m. Wednesday matinees (lunch at 11:30 a.m.). Through Aug. 27
Tickets: $21.95-$29.95 (show only, $14.95)
Call: (410) 633-5900, Ext. 375