Broadway in Orlando review: 'Clue' captures the madcap spirit of the board game-based cult film

It’s something of a small-scale miracle.

click to enlarge Three women in formal evening attire are seated on a 1950’s-style brown couch. Three men in suits stand directly behind them. Each person is holding a murder weapon up in the air, looking at it.
photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade
The company of the North American tour of "Clue"
Over the past several seasons, subscribers to the Dr. Phillips Center’s Broadway series have come to expect a certain formula from the seemingly endless parade of screen-to-stage adaptations: They take a favorite film, bloat the narrative with unnecessary new elements, pad the running time with a pastiche score of forgettable music, and generally suck out everything that made the original fun.

So it’s something of a small-scale miracle that Clue (subtitled “Live on Stage!” or “A New Comedy,” depending on which page of the playbill you believe) not only manages to capture the madcap spirit of the cinematic boardgame-based cult classic without adding useless cruft, but even cuts nearly 15 minutes off of the movie’s already efficient 94-minute running time.

The film’s Agatha Christie-meets-Parker Brothers plotline — involving six strangers trapped inside a mansion with a murderer — is patently absurd, and largely relied on its all-star cast’s comedic skill for its enduring appeal. Fortunately, the stage version’s touring cast capably steps into those enormous shoes with go-for-broke performances that fondly recall (rather than re-create) their famous forerunners.

Standouts among the cast include Michelle Elaine’s sassy Miss Scarlet, Tari Kelly's icy Mrs. White, and Mark Prince in the central role of Wadsworth the butler; his buttoned-up energy is more Ian Holm than Tim Curry, but his hyperkinetic accusatory monologue at the climax is a certified show-stopper. Most of all, John Shartzer steals the production with his spastic slapstick as the Gumby-eqsue Mr. Green, whose slow-motion back-bend puts a CGI-assisted Keanu Reeves to shame.

The first credit for this unexpectedly entertaining show goes to Hunter Forster, who originally adapted Jonathan Lynn’s screenplay, and contributed with Eric Price to playwright Sandy Rustin’s script. They’ve wisely re-created verbatim nearly all of the quotable dialogue from the 1985 whodunit, then added just enough meta-context and inside winks to satisfy both die-hard fans and newcomers alike.

Even with such funny actors and a faithful script, such a show could easily go wrong without the razor-sharp cue pickup and relentless pacing that director Casey Hushion has brought to this anything-but-bored game. Marvelously musical choreographed movement atop Lee Savage’s surprise-packed puzzle-box set makes for transitions that are cinematically seamless, and scenes that largely consist of characters talking become visually interesting with the help of Ryan O’Gara’s spookhouse lighting and Jen Caprio’s color-coded costumes.

It may seem like a slender morsel compared to Les Miz, the three-and-a-half-hour Broadway behemoth coming back to town later this month. But after so many overcooked adaptations, Clue is a refreshing palate-cleanser that made me hungry to rewatch the original film again — and let me get home early enough to do so.

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