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Arts and Entertainment

"CLUE The Musical" Onstage And Online at Springfield Little Theatre

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(Poster design courtesy Springfield Little Theatre)
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“Being creatives, we always have to think outside the box and say, OK, what are the guidelines, what are the rules, what are our limitations and how can we safely operate inside those? And that's what we're doing our best to do every day. It's not without its obstacles or pitfalls or heartaches or anything like that. But, you know, we persevere as we have for 86 years.”                 

That’s Eli Cunningham, a veteran of Springfield Little Theatre since his student days in the YES Troupe. He directs SLT’s new production of “CLUE, The Musical,” opening tonight (Oct.23) and continuing through November 8 at the Landers Theatre, 311 E. Walnut in downtown Springfield. On KSMU’s “Arts News” this morning, Cunningham talked about the excitement—and challenges—of performing live for paying customers during a pandemic, and about the show itself. “We're really excited. It's got the ‘today's opening night’ energy. It's excitement. It's nervousness. And you just bundle that up and you shoot it out and deliver it through the performance.”

“CLUE the Musical” is based on the internationally popular Parker Brothers board game.

It’s “a thriller murder mystery,” said Eli Cunningham. “And it's so much fun—you watch ‘CLUE’ while playing ‘Clue.’ So at the beginning of the game, the audience actually selects one card for the weapon, the murderer and the room. So three cards in total. And they go into the envelope just like you would (when playing) a normal game of Clue, but you don't know what those cards are. And so throughout the game, our host, and the guy who lives at the mansion where it takes place—his name is Mr. Body—he kind of guides us through and gives us clues throughout the show, and unveils different things. And then, depending on who the murderer is, that actually activates different portions of the script that we then perform. And so the audience is really trying to keep it all together and pay attention.”

And so are the performers: the show turns out differently every night, considering that there are 216 possible finales! The actors have to be ready for what’s about to happen. “It has been a journey,” admits Cunningham. “It is so fun, though. This cast is amazing. As with any ensemble cast or show, it's all about working together, operating as a team, as a unit, and sort of supporting and listening and just fighting those obstacles as you go through the rehearsal process. And it's been amazing. They're incredibly talented. There's some insane vocalists in this cast. There's a lot of LT veterans and a couple of newcomers. So it’s been incredible to get it to this point. And each night you're like, ‘OK, YOU’RE the murderer now.’ It's been fun to rehearse and to play; it's really quite a cool show.”

The musical score for “CLUE” is one of its most important elements, of course. Luckily the musical numbers are consistent in each performance, although the various dialogue and story elements change from night to night, depending on the random card choices the audience members have made.

After the Friday night opening this weekend, “CLUE The Musical” will run Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm, with additional matinees at 2:00pm Saturday and Sunday, through November 8 at the Landers. Of course, all kinds of social-distancing measures continue in place in the normally 600-seat theater.  Audience members are not allowed to choose their own seats: SLT produces a seating chart for every performance, based on numbers of individual and group tickets sold. Cunningham said they will allow approximately 130 people into the building for each performance. “If you come as a group, we’re able to adjust the seating chart a little bit to maintain those distances. So if you’re a family of ten, that takes up quite a bit less space than ten individuals,” according to Cunningham, since those ten individuals would have to be six feet apart, while the group would be allowed to sit together. “We actually had the Greene County Health Department come in and do a walk-through with us to talk about everything and put together a plan for us to safely reopen. And one of those was limiting areas of congestion, such as (not selling) concessions in the lobby, as well as when people are exiting, to do it wedding-style, where it's one row at a time.”

If you’re sick, of course, please don’t come out to the theater. That’s why Springfield Little Theatre offers a live online stream of each night’s performance.  When you purchase the streaming option, you’ll receive an email containing a link to the specific performance you’ve bought. Eli Cunningham praised the quality of LT’s video stream. “It’s not like some of the streams that you see on Facebook, where it looks like it's shot with a cell phone or an iPad. We actually have four different cameras, and we have a switcher. And so it's really like a small newsroom in there where we're switching from camera one to camera two.”  While Eli Cunningham is the stage director for the show, he does not go up to the booth and call camera shots for the live video stream—it’s operated by Little Theatre film lab students. “They have been trained in doing this, and they already have a couple of shows under their belt. So this is our veteran team of students who are shooting the show and punching it up live” on the webstream.

And the stream is indeed live—well, with about a 30-second delay.  “And it's actually really cool, because it's like the way TV used to be--or like radio still is, where it's like, if I'm listening to it, I know I'm having the exact same experience as someone else who's listening to it or watching it. It's just like you're experiencing things as they happen in the theater, which is really cool.” Especially gratifying to Eli Cunningham is the fact that the stream can be purchased by anybody, anywhere in the world. “I grew up at the Landers in the YES Troupe program. A lot of my friends who I grew up with (will be) watching it in upstate New York, in Korea, in California.”

Once the show hits the Landers stage in front of a paying audience, it must now basically run itself—it’s out of Cunningham’s hands.  And that’s fine with him. “That’s actually my favorite part!” he said. “After all, you spend so long mixing all of the ingredients together and getting everything perfect, and polishing and rehearsing again and again and again. It’s nice to actually give that gift away to the cast and say, ‘it's in your hands, it's your show, go for it!’”

Cunningham said in-person ticket sales “are going great. We're actually very close to sold out for opening weekend for in-person seating. There's always more options for online streaming tickets as well.”

Tickets range from $20 to $30 for in-person seating in the Landers; the live-stream online option costs $30. Call the Landers box office at 869-1334 or visit www.springfieldlittletheatre.org.