Stage

The Return of Alley Theatre's Summer Chills With Clue

Brandon Weinbrenner in rehearsal for Clue at the Alley Theatre
Brandon Weinbrenner in rehearsal for Clue at the Alley Theatre Photo by Lynn Lane

Brandon Weinbrenner was an avid reader as a kid and one of the series of books that he galloped through was based on the board game Clue.

In each story of the 18-book series, readers were given a list of clues and asked to figure out who had done what — the answer revealed when a page of the book was turned upside down.

So to say Weinbrenner, the Alley's Associate Producer & Casting Director, was a natural to direct the Alley Theatre's upcoming production of Clue would be an understatement. "Mrs. Peacock, Professor Plum, Colonel Mustard are people that I have known for the majority of my life," he said, laughing.

The production also marks the return of the Alley to Summer Chills after a pandemic-induced absence the last two years.

Weinbrenner is armed with a ready answer when asked about the continuing popularity of the Alley's special summer programming.

"The mass appeal of a mystery and being involved in the outcome. We're involved in sleuthing out the crime or the mystery at hand. Audiences of all ages, people of all different backgrounds can agree that spending a Houston summer indoors with other people and live theater and figuring out a murder mystery is a fun way to spend an evening or an afternoon. That, first of all, makes returning to Summer Chills a no-brainer," he said.

"And with Clue this take on Clue is very true to the [1985] movie; it's basically the same plot as the movie, the same characters. But it's theatricalized in a way that filming something just can't achieve," he said. "It embraces the format of live performance and storytelling with actors in front of human beings and relating to the audience that we missed during the global pandemic."

The movie has a cult following and is considered a camp classic, Weinbrenner said. And fortunately "fits the  personalities and abilities of our resident acting company."

The play, he hastened to add, stands on its own and people who haven't seen the movie won't be at a disadvantage. "You'll be meeting these characters for the first time, you'll remember them and think about them.

"At the end of the day it's like an episode of your favorite crime podcast. There's a clear crime. There are clear suspects. There's a weapon. There are alibis. There are motives. There are secret identities. There's all that fun stuff that makes it totally digestible as a stand-alone."

Weinbrenner said anyone middle school age and up should be entertained by this one-act which is filled with comedy. "It embraces the medium to its fullest potential — designed to a T. Pulling out all the stops with turntables and moving scenery pieces and just inventive costumes and murders on stage. Huge light effects. It really embraces theater for all that it can be.

"So nuanced, Clue is not.

"The play is set in the early 1950s, the height of McCarthyism and the hunt for Socialists and Communists and it's fully set in that time period but it still has anachronistic elements that have nothing to do with the time period for no other reason than they add to the fun. They fit the spirit of the moment of the play."

"The movie was so '80s in so many ways," Weinbrenner said. "So it's the '80s approach to 1950s McCarthyism. I'm considering ours the 2020 approach to 1950s McCarthyism."

The costumes are also historically accurate, with some wiggle room, he said. "They are period-accurate to a point. Again, every time there's a fun embellishment to be had, we let go of those rules a little bit. The 1950s was just such a glorious time for clothes."

The cast includes Alley’s Resident Acting Company members Elizabeth Bunch as Mrs. White, Dylan Godwin as Wadsworth, Shawn Hamilton as The Unexpected Cop/ Chief of Police, Chris Hutchison as Mr. Boddy/ The Motorist/ Back Up Cop, Melissa Molano as The Cook/ Singing Telegram Girl/ Back Up Cop, Melissa Pritchett as Yvette, David Rainey as Colonel Mustard, Christopher Salazar as Mr. Green and Todd Waite as Professor Plum.

The cast includes frequent Alley guest actors Michelle Elaine (Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Sense and Sensibility) as Miss Scarlet, Susan Koozin (Murder on the Orient Express) as Mrs. Peacock and understudies Alan Brincks (The Supreme Leader) and Mai Le (High School Play: A Nostalgia Fest).

"Everyone's in the ensemble spirit because it's such an ensemble play," said Weinbrenner.

Asked why people should come to see Clue, Weinbrenner said that while the Alley has never shied away from tackling tough issues, it also realizes the benefits of being a place that audience members can just come and enjoy themselves.

"We recognize there is opportunity to forget about the hardships of life  to just allow the feeling and the good times to wash over you. It’s why going to the cinema was so popular during the world wars," Weinbrenner said. "This was why Summer Chills was created. It's just a fun, family-friendly way to enjoy theater during the summer."

Performances are scheduled for July 27 through August 28 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For more information call 713- 220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $28-$77.
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