Thursday, January 17, 2013

Parker Playhouse: The BBC Murders (reviews)

Agatha Christie's The BBC Murders opened at Fort Lauderdale's Parker Playhouse on January 15, 2013.
Lost during the London Blitz of World War II and post-war reconstruction, four Agatha Christie radio plays from the BBC Mystery Series have been rediscovered and adapted for the stage to create a thrilling night of intrigue and murder: Butter in a Lordly Dish, Three Blind Mice (which eventually evolved into the full-length hit The Mousetrap), Personal Call and Yellow Iris, which is set in a London cabaret and features musical numbers composed by Rupert Holmes.
Judith Walcutt and David Ossman directed a cast that included Gary Sandy, Amy Walker, Phil Proctor ,Richard Fish, Cassie Post, Lesley Staples, Elizabeth Dimon, Angie Radosh, Christopher Swan, Orson Ossman and Alex Jorth, as well as Foley artists Tony Brewer and Lauren Allison.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
...there’s the canny germ of an idea in producer Zev Buffman’s pet project to fuse radio, theater and modern technology into a hybrid exemplified in his latest production, Agatha Christie’s The BBC Murders at the Parker Playhouse. The end result is undeniably entertaining in a quiet smile kind of way, although this is clearly an early foray into this genre and, arguably, not the most enthralling material to do it with.
The key was to augment the works with a three-dimensional theater aesthetic and high-tech production values. ...the creative team starts out with classic radio sound effects by two Foley artists ...as the evening continues, the audience becomes more aware of stage-high projections for settings, an increasing number of props and costumes, actors dropping their scripts and moving away from the microphones to interact and finally a quality of sound effects on state of the art equipment that are brilliantly engineered.
The other piece of the puzzle was hiring a terrific troupe of actors,
young and old, with glorious voices to play a wide range of roles like a
repertory company, folks like Gary Sandy, am experienced stage actor
best known for TV’s WKRP in Cincinnati; Phil Proctor, a
co-founder with Ossman of the counterculture comedy group Firesign
Theater; and the lovely Amy Walker who has a lead role in every play and
a different accent for each. (Check out her 21 accents in 2 minutes You
Tube video, click here)
The entire event has a delightfully tongue-in-cheek feel. Among the droll conceits is when the initial announcer asks the audience to stand and sing “God Save The Queen” (the lyrics are in the program and the tune is “My Country ‘Tis Of Thee.”) The production also pokes gentle fun at the old technology. Frequently, moments seem written in to take advantage of and spotlight the hand-crafted sound effects.
But the technology doesn’t overshadow the acting. This production directed by Walcutt and Ossman is blessed with a cast filled with unusually expressive and full-bodied voices that are musical instruments capable of a range of impeccable accents. Walker in particular has a plummy Downton Abbey sound when required or a soft Irish lilt. Surprisingly, while there must a melodramatic tinge to the proceedings , the style never seems over the top or out of place.
If The BBC Murders is not riveting suspense or confounding mystery, it’s quite well done, intriguing and perhaps a peek back to the future of theater.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
It’s tough to guess whether the model used in Agatha Christie’s The BBC Murders could serve as a template for other plays combining 21st century techology with nostalgia-infused theater art. But this much is true: The four linked Christie plays at Fort Lauderdale’s Parker Playhouse prove to be a delight for lovers of mysteries, radio drama and solidly entertaining theater.
...off to one side, playing roles as vital as any of those performed by actors, are Foley artists Tony Brewer and Lauren Allison, the live sound effects wizards who supply everything from the creak of an opening door to the clink of a china teacup on its saucer. Their synchronization with actors who are miming the pouring of a stiff drink, skiing to an isolated manor house or delivering a fatal blow is dead on.
The entire cast is strong, and as with any repertory company, it’s fun to watch the actors change characters and accents from play to play.

Gary Sandy, a regular on the TV series WKRP in Cincinnati, is the leading man — or leading cad — in three of the four plays... Whatever Sandy may be like in his offstage life, he has a real knack for playing self-important bad guys.
If The BBC Murders has a leading lady (in addition to the genial Peterson as Christie, of course) and most valuable player, Amy Walker gets both titles... In all four plays, she’s terrific.
The company’s other performers... all prove adroit at delivering their multiple characters.
Agatha Christie's The BBC Murders plays at the Parker Playhouse through February 3, 2013.

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