I wouldn’t exactly say Ben Forster appearing as himself in this musical comedy is a career highlight (he is, after all, someone who has played the title role in the West End production of The Phantom of the Opera) but it’s evident that he doesn’t take himself too seriously in A Killer Party. The narrative arc is as predictable as night follows day. In short, this is a murder mystery story in which various leads are followed up, some more plausible than others, before eventually there’s a breakthrough of some kind in the investigation which results in the case being solved.
There are miscellaneous diversions that could be seen as distracting from the investigation led by Justine Case (geddit?) (Emma Salvo). But the digressions provide some background to the characters, as well as some showstopping musical numbers to enjoy. The show isn’t going to convert anyone who isn’t a fan of musical theatre, but it knows its target audience, and gives it plenty of punchlines and references that give the production an air of familiarity. “Did you always want to work as a traffic warden?” one character asks another. The riposte is as stagey as they come: “Did you always want to work in an unviable industry?”
The emphasis is on ‘comedy’ rather than ‘mystery’, though it is not exactly as if the investigative element of the show becomes an afterthought. Almost everyone, bar Case herself, is hammy in nature, which unfortunately makes an otherwise entertaining production rather one-dimensional.
That said, there are some high production values here – the filming and editing is done well, with Vivika Orsonwelles (Debbie Kurup) and George Murderer (Cedric Neal) performing a duet in perfect harmony despite being filmed in their respective homes.
With character names like these, this may as well be a pantomime. The score lacks subtlety, given this production’s Lancashire setting, but the show’s New York origins explain the hairdryer treatment some of the songs are given. The production also, frankly, lacks coherence, but does so with such flair and confidence that all is forgiven by the end. Put together as a series of nine episodes, they are perhaps enjoyed better in bitesize format rather than binge-watching – I found some elements a bit repetitive, but they would have served as useful reminders if the events of the previous episode weren’t exactly fresh in my mind.
That Varthur McArthur (Jason Manford) has written a musical, Circus Steamboat Murder – Death on the High Seas Trapeze, is not entirely forgotten, with Shea Crescendo (a delightful Oscar Conlon-Morrey) giving the audience the (sub)plot of the show that would have been performed if there wasn’t an ‘actual’ murder to be investigated. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s the right kind of show to bring to audiences as the effects of the global pandemic continue to be felt.
Review by Chris Omaweng
When Varthur McArthur, failed West End actor and current artistic director of Blackpool’s smallest regional theatre, calls a read-through for his latest murder mystery play, the cast of local actors arrive at the party with anything but theatre on their minds. But when Varthur ends up face down in his soup (a gluten-free cheese bisque), it’s up to Traffic-Police-Officer-turned-Detective Justine Case to piece together what happened. If only the ensemble of suspects would stop singing…
The full cast includes Ben Forster (Jesus Christ Superstar, Elf The Musical), Oscar Conlon-Morrey (Only Fools and Horses, Nativity The Musical) as Shea Crescendo, Debbie Kurup (The Prince of Egypt, Sweet Charity) as Vivika Orsonwelles, renowned comedian, actor and presenter Jason Manford (Curtains, Sweeney Todd, The Producers) as Varthur McArthur, Cedric Neal (The Voice, Motown The Musical) as George Murderer, Amara Okereke (Les Misérables, The Boyfriend) as Lily Wright, Lucas Rush (The Merry Wives of Windsor, Les Misérables) as Clarke Staples, Emma Salvo (Come From Away, The Toxic Avenger) as Justine Case, Ashley Samuels (Motown The Musical, The Book of Mormon) as Cameron Mitchelljohn, Harriet Thorpe (Wicked, Les Misérables) as Detective Case and Rachel Tucker (Come From Away, Songs From a New World) as Joan McArthur.
A KILLER PARTY
3 – 30 May 2021
Produced by Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment, Tanisha Spring for Blue Mahoe
Productions and Ilai Szpiezak for Upstage Creative.
Director – Benji Sperring
Musical Supervisor – Nick Barstow
Designer – Zahra Mansouri
Cinematography – Click Boom Studios
Book – Rachel Axler and Kait Kerrigan
Music – Jason Howland
Lyrics – Nathan Tysen
Casting Director – Jane Deitch
Associate Producer and General Manager – Chris Matanlé for Aria Entertainment
Available to book and watch online here: www.stream.theatre