Some pieces of pop-cultural output get loved to death, repeated and revisited so often they become like worn-out records — still playable, but no longer as vivid as they once were.
I don't want that to be the case with Clue, the 1985 film by under-appreciated British comedy director Jonathan Lynn, who also co-wrote the script. It remains a master class in comic timing and good old fashioned snappy patter, with some slapstick thrown in, and it was executed by a cast of pros that would be impossible to replicate ever again — Madeline Kahn, Leslie Ann Warren, Martin Mull, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Tim Curry, and Eileen Brennan. While not a box-office success, the movie gained a broad following on cable TV and VHS in the ensuing years, becoming a beloved cult classic.
A Clue remake is in the works with Ryan Reynolds attached, and that will be painful enough. A by-all-accounts awful Clue - The Musical premiered way off Broadway in the 90s with no connection to Lynn's script, and YouTube evidence suggests it has been a favorite of community theaters. But in 2017, a couple of playwrights saw fit to adapt Lynn's film for the off-Broadway stage — mostly word-for-word with some additional material tossed in to make the opening and closing scenes work for the stage. And this season SF Playhouse has produced it, likely in a bid for ticket sales, by way of a known quantity with a built-in following.
In the spirit of drag queens reenacting episodes of The Golden Girls and Designing Women, Clue, the stage version is a mostly loyal reenactment of extremely familiar material, with characters shaped to mimic the original performers, and a dash of obvious camp.
The stage show, while no doubt fun for some audiences who temper their expectations, subtracts from the delights of the 1985 film more than it adds anything new of its own — though perhaps, with some tighter timing, the goofy revised ending sequence could earn a few fresh laughs.
As the butler Wadsworth, Dorian Lockett does an admirable job of carrying much of the action, though he gets the unenviable job of trying to match the great Tim Curry in delivering that impossibly fast, breathless summation monologue of the evening's events and murders, which very few could hope to do well. Veteran Bay Area actress Stacy Ross's talents feel mostly wasted in the role of Mrs. Peacock, and Michael Ray Wisely does perhaps the best job in delivering laughs as a bumbling Colonel Mustard.
The toybox set designed by Heather Kenyon is arguably the true star of the show, unfolding and collapsing as it does to depict a half dozen different rooms in Boddy Mansion.
Director Susi Damilano has fun with maneuvering the main cast of seven around the small stage, and she keeps the show moving at a brisk clip — it comes in under 90 minutes with no intermission. But in the key realm of snappy patter and witty banter, the timing often feels off.
Casual fans of Clue looking for a live reenactment to scratch an itch should find plenty to like and chuckle at in this production. And I don't begrudge SF Playhouse from wanting an easy hit with audiences after three years in which a pandemic decimated their ticket revenue and interrupted the runs of several shows. But die-hard fans be warned that you might find yourself missing Madeline Kahn.
'Clue' runs through April 22 at SF Playhouse, 450 Post Street. Find tickets here.
Top Photo by Jessica Palopoli