Archive for Thursday, July 6, 2006

A mystery’s ‘Afoot’ at KU theater

July 6, 2006


There's an air of mystery surrounding Kansas University's summer theater season this year.

That mystery: How does a young actor go back and forth between playing two totally different characters in two utterly different plays on alternating evenings?

That's precisely what the Kansas University student casts of Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" and the musical murder mystery "Something's Afoot" are being asked to do.

University Theatre Artistic Director John Staniunas said he selected the two mysteries for precisely that reason.

"I really wanted our students to have the experience of working in rotating repertory, exploring two totally different genres, but with a connection," he said. "This is the kind of work they will be doing in summer stock and regional theater, and there is real growth gained from playing different roles night after night. They have to learn to distinguish between characters and plays. It is challenging for the actors, but great for their concentration."

He added the repertory format is popular with theatergoers.

"I also want our audiences to enjoy the sheer cleverness of seeing the same actors shaping and changing roles," he said. "And the notion of having just one set, which can change completely just by moving the furniture, is intriguing."

The shows

What: "And Then There Were None" and "Something's Afoot," presented in repertory by University Theatre When: Performances of "And Then There Were None" are at 7:30 p.m. July 7-8, 18, 20, 22 and 5 p.m. July 9; "Something's Afoot" plays at 7:30 p.m. July 14-15, 19, 21 and 5 p.m. July 16 and 23 Where: Crafton-Preyer Theatre, Murphy Hall, KU Tickets: Prices for "And Then There Were None" are $12 for adults, $10 for students and $11 for seniors; "Something's Afoot" seats are $15 for adults, $10 for students and $14 for seniors Ticket info: 864-3982

John Gronbeck-Tedesco, Kansas University professor of theater and film, is directing "And Then There Were None." Staniunas, associate professor of theater and film, is director, co-musical director and choreographer for "Something's Afoot," and Barbara Puckett, a guest artist from the Kansas City area, is co-musical director and accompanist for the show.

In 1939, Agatha Christie brought new interest and excitement to the mystery novel genre with her publication of "Ten Little Indians," an intelligent and suspenseful story. It quickly became a best-seller and was adapted for the stage as "And Then There Were None," the closing line of the nursery rhyme after which the novel was named.

The classic mystery follows 10 strangers who are lured by an unseen host to spend a weekend in a manor house high on a mountaintop on a British island. When they are all gathered, they hear from their host that each one of them has caused the death of an innocent person, but has escaped punishment so justice has not been served in their cases.

Cut off from the world and fighting rising panic, terror ensues when one person after another is killed and accusations begin to fly as the remaining guests realize a murderer is in their midst. Tension mounts as the survivors scramble to unmask the killer even as their number is reduced in macabre accordance with the "Ten Little Indians" nursery rhyme displayed in rooms throughout the house.

A musical spoof of the whodunit mystery genre, "Something's Afoot" takes a satirical poke at Christie's murder mysteries as well as at the many musical styles of years past. The musical opened in May 1976 at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway, but it only ran for 61 performances.

Ten people, all stereotypical British characters, are summoned to the isolated English country estate of Lord Dudley Rancour. The unseen host turns up dead within the play's first five minutes and, in typical fashion, a sudden raging thunderstorm knocks out the bridge and, therefore, all communication with the outside world. The survivors have to fend for themselves as they try to discover which one of them is the murderer while they are picked off by varied and interesting means, leaving them to panic while bursting out into song every few minutes.

"These songs are not hit tunes, but each one sounds like a familiar hit," Staniunas said. "The songs spoof different musical styles. The opening number reminds me of a Sondheim-like tune, and the finale is a 'Climb Every Mountain'-type of an uplifting anthem."

Although the two shows are very different in story and style, both embrace the nature of the mystery in a truthful way, Staniunas said.

"I don't know why mysteries are so entertaining," he said. "One of the challenges for the actors is to find the humorous moments in 'And Then There Were None,' while also finding the serious nature of 'Something's Afoot.'"


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