Monday, February 19, 2024

"C.L.U.E" by Collide Theatrical Dance Company at the Southern Theater

For their 30th production, Collide Theatrical Dance Company is remounting/revising their 2015 original dance musical C.L.U., now with one letter added to be C.L.U.E. It's a parody of the classic board game (which I spent many hours playing as a kid) and the movie based on it (coincidentally, a new non-musical stage version will be at the Orpheum next week). While the mystery part may be a little thin, the dancing and performances are incredible, and the show is overall a whole lot of fun. Collide lives at the intersection of theater and dance, and as a primarily theater reviewer, it's fun to have an excuse to see some dance, especially when it tells a story in a theatrical way. Embrace the mystery and enjoy the dancing of C.L.U.E. at the Southern Theater (the best venue for dance) now through March 10.

The plot of C.L.U.E. is a little preposterous (I'm not even going to tell you what C.L.U.E. stands for), but allows for some silly and campy fun. A collection of oddballs are invited to dinner by a mysterious man named Mr. Bottie, who knows a secret about all of them. We see each character's sordid past in a dance flashback, from murder to bribery to prison escape. When Mr. Bottie turns up dead (spoiler alert: he's not the first), conveniently just before intermission, it's the audience's job to guess who killed him and vote via a QR code in the program. But unlike the game, there are no real clues. At the beginning of the show an audience volunteer picks three oversized cards (for where, with what, and whodunit) and puts them in an envelope (like the game), so it's just a random guess. After intermission the audience votes are tallied, and we see possible murder scenarios play out (or danced out) for the audience vote, the cards in the envelope, and then the "real" answer. The first two will be different every night (so basically you're voting for who you want to see dance), and while the plot reveal is a bit convoluted, it's really just an excuse for the fabulous dancing.*

One difference from the 2015 production is that the performers dance to recorded music, rather than a live band. While I will always prefer and advocate for live musicians, the songs are well chosen (an array of pop styles modern and classic), the sound is well mixed, and it puts the focus on the dancing.

the cast of C.L.U.E. (photo by Alexis Lund Photography)
As in their most recent show The Great Gatsby, Nathan Huberty functions as the narrator and the only performer with lines. It's a good choice; he's charming and personable as Mr. Bottie, with a wink to the audience as he sets up the story and delivers the occasional pun. He introduces each of the suspects (Heather Brockman as The Black Widow, Megan Carver as The Maid, Noah Coon as The Butler, Renee Guittar as The Starlet, and Patrick Jeffrey as The Politician). They each embody the personality of their character through their dancing and expressions. Director/writer/choreographer Regina Peluso has as usual created a series of fantastic dance numbers (along with associate choreographers, some of which are in the cast). The dancing feels modern yet with nods to the traditional, is character and story driven, and above all is so entertaining to watch. Ensemble members Johanna Engebretson, Sarah Potvin, Elayna Sitzman, and Bella West, as well as Renee's adorable and very mellow dog Tofu, complete the ensemble and fill out the world of the story.

The cavernous space at the Southern is dominated by a grand two-sided staircase under the arch, with other set pieces brought in as needed. Projections of the Clue-like cards, as well as images of the various locations, are displayed on the brick wall at the back of the theater as well as the sides. Lighting adds mood (including full blackouts that mean someone's gonna wind up dead), and characters are dressed in character appropriate clothing that somehow still allows them freedom of moment to dance. (Lighting design by Tony Stoeri, projection design by Peter Morrow, costume design by Regina Peluson, and technical direction by Lillian Crawford.)