Steve from Blue’s Clues was brutally murdered Saturday night, in the O’Connell House on Upper Campus.
His iconic green-striped shirt was torn by a mysterious murderer’s knife as his lifeless body fell to the ground from the second story balcony with a jarring thud. The crowd of captivated onlookers erupted in cackling laughter. A team of all-star detectives—including Velma Dinkley, Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, The Hardy Boys, Carmen San Diego, and Dora the Explorer (who these days goes by Dorman the Exploreman, after a brave sex change)—was put on the case.
That was the premise behind the Committee for Creative Reenactments (CCE)’s Murder Mystery Musical, the comedy troupe’s first ever attempt at musical theater. A group of washed-up child detectives enter a court-ordered rehab program in Steve’s mansion and are forced back into work to find Steve’s killer. And while the body that fell from the second floor was merely a prop, the drama and comedy were very real, thanks to an expertly crafted script, an incredibly thoughtful production, and a cast of dedicated comedians successfully breaking out of their comfort zones to shine in the musical spotlight.
The most surprising and satisfying part of “Lady in Red” was its depth. It could be readapted as a legitimate Broadway musical with full-fledged character development and dramatic plots just as easily as it could be trimmed down to a low-drama SNL Sketch. Indeed, the characters of “Lady in Red” could have easily been caricatures, mere sketches of people loosely adhering to the trope of “washed-up child detective.” For a comedy show, that’s all you need to succeed: the essential traits that make those characters unique and funny.
These characters, however, proved to be significantly more fleshed-out than anyone could have expected. Nancy Drew (Serena Entezary, A&S ’15) married her high school sweetheart and feared being trapped in a life with a man she no longer felt affection for, ultimately turning to pills. Carmen San Diego (Jill Lawler, CSON ’15) wore her characteristic gloves to hide the severe burn marks from a heist gone awry that disgusted and scared away a man that she loved. Encyclopedia Brown (Zander Weiss, A&S ’15), who now goes by “Leroy” and has become a homeless alcoholic. He falls in love with Nancy Drew to feel something for the first time in a long time. The mere fact that these characters are so deeply rooted in childhood experience and are unexpectedly given such deep and depressing storylines add as much to the humor as it does to driving the mechanic of the plot.
Give these complex and absurd arcs to seasoned comedians, and you get a production that strikes a delicate balance between great humor and surprising drama. Lawler shined in her depiction of Carmen San Diego, whose floaty, whimsical air concealed the secret drama of her character while bringing laughter whenever she went. Rachel Maillet, A&S ’15, who played Velma, nailed the fine-line between the endearingly dorky “Scooby Doo” detective we all once loved and the increasingly unhinged and sexually repressed woman that she has since become. Entezary and Weiss perfectly captured the awkwardness in Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown’s mutual romantic interest, which is complicated by the former’s marriage.
And although some of these actors and actresses were neither singers, nor seasoned veterans of musical theatre—that much was clear from their often-noticeable difficulties in projecting to the room—the show’s most charming moments were its music. The songs were hysterical and sweet, well crafted and witty. They ranged from serious love songs, to comedic calls to action (when Steve dies, Encyclopedia Brown leads the team in a motivational song, which triumphantly sings, “Let’s pull our thumbs from our asses and rally to the call”). Like all professional musicals, there was an overture, there were recurring musical motifs, and there was a pit orchestra. And like all professional musicals, there was a plot, depth and a whole lot of humor. For “Lady In Red,” the CCE was at the absolute top of its game, with all its members firing on all cylinders to deliver one of the best, most original productions of the year.
Featured Images Courtesy of Amelie Trieu