Theater Review: Beloit Civic Theatre begins a season of mysteries

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

A season of mystery begins with Whodunit, The Musical at Beloit Civic Theatre. Based on Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Circular Staircase, it has been adapted by Ed Dixon and is the Wisconsin premiere of the work. Directed by Loren Sass, also the vice president of the company, the musical version is an interesting concept.

Old friends, Kathy and Jerry Stevens, lead the competent cast. Their many years in local theater make them familiar to much of the audience. Kathy is Carrie Innes, renting a mansion, Sunnyside, for a month with her niece, Sally, played by Samantha Owen. Sally brings a friend, Jack Bailey (Brandon Williams), and the whimsical Mary Mowers is Carrie’s maid, companion and commentator on every action that occurs on stage. A lifelong lover of theater, she has acted in local productions for years. Of course, 33 years of teaching does prepare one for drama. Newcomer Tom Young plays detective Mr. Jarvis, who arrives when bodies begin appearing with great frequency, and a Mysterious Stranger, dressed as a gypsy fortune-teller, is essential to the solving of the murders. Jerry, the elegant butler, Thomas, lends an air of authenticity to the plot. All English mysteries must have a butler, but in Whodunit, it is essential.

Loren Sass has great fun with the play and his cast. All are new to the company, and Sass’ enthusiasm for their dramatic and vocal talents is evident. Not often is the set the most important aspect of a production, but Sass’ design and a dedicated crew have created a work worthy of Broadway. Never have I seen a more beautiful set. Rinehart’s mystery, originally set in England, is now in the Art Deco ’30s and is reflected on stage in that precise period. The black, white and blue-gray color scheme predominates, even to the hues of every costume. It reminds one of the Ascot scene in My Fair Lady. Sass is a genius at set design. The circular staircase, gargoyles who function magically, and lighting provide the atmosphere for murder and mayhem. Cassandra Krueger provides the accompaniment. Another retired teacher, her musical talent is exceptional.

Having attended the last performance, my recommendation will be for the rest of the season, but if two more mysteries match the quality of Whodunit, they will definitely be on my list.

Cliffhanger, by James Yaffe and directed by Doris Tropp, opens Jan. 27, 2011, and runs through Feb. 5, 2011, and Ira Levin’s Deathtrap, directed by Patricia Moran Collins, opens April 27, 2011, and runs through May 5, 2011. Reservations may be acquired by calling (608) 365-0235 and at $16 for seniors, you will not find a better bargain. Do support this fine company.

From the Oct. 13-19, 2010 issue

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