There are too many musical notes for the number of dance steps Diana Evans Pulliam wants actors Justin Underwood and Rebecca Keith to take in the opening number for Clue — The Musical.
Music director Jessica Slaton Greene says they can shorten the sequence, which she does in consultation with pianist Caleb Ritchie — expanding and contracting the score until Greene’s music and Pulliam’s choreography are in perfect sync.
Watching from the side of the stage is director Bob Singleton, who says, “It’s incredible to watch them do this. It’s like they’re rewriting the score as we go.”
It’s something Singleton hasn’t seen up close often. The director has helmed and acted in many a play, including classics by writers from David Mamet to William Shakespeare. But this is his first time directing a musical.
It’s a gig Singleton somewhat stumbled into. Another director was lined up for the show, but some other issues intervened and Singleton, president of the Studio Players Board of Directors, stepped in.
“I wasn’t worried about it ... because of who was already working on it, and how much experience they had and had here at Studio,” Singleton says, referring to Greene, Pulliam and other personnel. That said, Singleton has found similarities in his established directoral style and the new genre he’s entering.
“Not to say that what I do is choreography, but when I’m blocking a show and directing a show, I’m usually looking at it in a rhythmic kind of way,” Singleton says. “I’m looking at it as a song and the movement is kind of a dance.
“It ended up being a more natural process than I expected, and I haven’t changed much in how I approach things, and hopefully it works out.”
The musical that Singleton has ended up with isn’t a typical Broadway book musical, a la Andrew Lloyd Webber or recent Disney hits — both composers other Lexington theaters will be presenting next month.
Clue is based on the popular board game that was also adapted into a 1985 film starring Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn and others. Like the film, the musical has multiple endings: 216, to be exact. Audience members participate by picking cards to determine who committed the murder, in which room and with what weapon.
“It’s more like the board game than the movie,” Greene says. “Our studio audience likes audience participation, so finding a show that had that element in an authentic way — not in a cheesy, you have to get up and dance with the characters way — is kind of cool as well.”
Singleton notes that it’s not just the multiple endings the cast has to adjust to. Scenes through the show will change based on which cards have been drawn from the audience.
“They have to be on their toes at all times,” Greene says. “So, at rehearsals, we’ll get together and say, ‘What is it tonight?’ So we’ll rehearse different endings each night so we’re not completely caught off guard.”
The musical was written in the early 1990s and enjoyed an Off-Broadway run in 1997. There is no cast recording, though some numbers can be found in online videos by companies that have produced the show. For the Studio audience, though, what Clue lacks in familiarity as a show it makes up in a title that has been in living rooms for decades.
“Almost everyone has heard of it,” Singleton says of Clue. “It was one of the board games we played when I was growing up.”
But while it’s familiar, Clue lacks a specificity that gives the cast and directors broad freedom.
“Everyone knows who Col. Mustard is, but nobody really does,” Singleton says. “They are characters, but like we told the actors, you completely create them.”
That gave Pulliam, in particular, room to play through her choreography.
“It’s been a delight to bring to light their personalities through how they walk and move on stage,” said Pulliam, who, for instance, spends time later teaching actor Carl Trammel a bizarre, high-stepping walk for Col. Mustard.
Each character also has a game piece — an eight-foot tall, three-sided rolling column called a periaktoid — to move across the floor, designed to look like a Clue game board.
“The audience is going to be blown away to see that the stage is the grid from the board game that they played as a child, and to see the pieces move and that the characters move their set pieces,” Green says.
Singleton observes, “It’s a kick, it really is.”