Here’s a ‘Clue’: this mystery is hilarious

Sally Struthers stars in Gateway production

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Actors Sally Struthers and James Taylor Odom strode into The Gateway lobby for their Advance interview last week with enthusiastic zing.

“We were crying in rehearsal. From laughter,” Odom reported about their upcoming “Clue” roles.

“And there’s not a weak link,” added Struthers.

Both leads met playing in the inaugural “Grumpy Old Men” musical at Ogunquit Playhouse, in 2018, with a slew of Broadway veterans, including Hal Linden.

They’re heading the cast in the upcoming hilarious farce-meets-musical mystery, “Clue,” based on the cult-classic movie, inspired from the Hasbro board game, a kind of Agatha Christie trope with plenty of comedic touches. Struthers plays Mrs. Peacock with a Southern lilt. Odom is taking on Wadsworth the Butler, a master of ceremonies coordinating a dinner and a murder in an elegant but creepy house, with a maid and six guests rife with dark secrets they want to keep. Think blackmail. And someone who wants to get them. But who?

These two actors make up a star-power constellation; Struthers has played in The Gateway’s “9 to 5,” “Anything Goes,” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It” (she hung from a chandelier, singing for that one), and is a two-time Emmy Award and Golden Globe winner with a gigantic list of significant major film, television, and stage credits, including Gloria of the hit show “All In the Family,” a recurring role in the CBS show “Still Standing,” Netflix’s acclaimed “Gilmore Girls” and the IFC comedy series “Maron.”

Odom is a stage regular with prestigious credits that include North American National Tours (“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” and “The Sound of Music”) and appearing in world premiere musicals (“Wonderland”). He was last seen at The Gateway in 2021 in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” playing the multiple knocked-off unfortunate D’Ysquith relatives.

(His last three performances in September, October, and November 2022, were at the celebrated TheatreSquared in Fayetteville, Ark., whose productions have been recognized with an Obie Award as well as acclaim from the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal and others.)

Struthers had just played a four-month stint in Kansas City at the New Theatre Restaurant with Hal Linden in the Neil Simon play, “Come Blow Your Horn.”

Did Struthers jump at the chance at the “Clue” role?

“I would like to say I auditioned and won the role, but it’s not the case. It was offered to me (by executive artistic director Paul Allan),” Struthers revealed. “I said, ‘No.’ It would be on the heels of four months in Kansas City and I thought I needed a break, but Paul sweet-talked me.”

Struthers discussed the “Clue” debut at Ogunquit and its formation.

“With the Bucks County Playhouse (in 2017), we worked to shape [the play] and had three weeks of rehearsals. We collaborated, as we’re doing here, and made stuff up. You have to be facile and quick, and you have to be good. With Mrs. Peacock, I played it six years ago. My dear friend Eileen Brennan played it in the movie. So, if I’m going to do a role someone else does, I’m going to do it differently. I thought I should have a different voice. [Mrs. Peacock is] married to a member of Congress, so I thought she should have a dignified way of speaking.”

Struthers, who has performed theater roles for over 25 years, was frank about the work: “It’s the most difficult thing to do, but you do it because you love it,” she had said in a 2022 interview with A.J. Holmes, while starring in “Young Frankenstein” at the La Mirada Theater for the Performing Arts.

“Walking onto a live stage isn’t for sissies,” she elaborated for the Advance. “If you’re lucky to star in a film, you film four pages a day and a half day to a full day to film three, four, or 10 lines. With ‘All In The Family,’ minus the commercials, it was 23 minutes and you had all week to learn the dialogue. With stage work, we have to know 80 pages of dialogue from beginning to end with movement and physicality. Your dialogue has to be ingrained in your brain. So there’s no one to make you look fabulous except you.”

Odom had actually signed on for another role, but when he’d heard about The Gateway’s “Clue” production and that Struthers had been cast, he went for it. “This is a dream role,” he said. “The call came in a few weeks ago and I couldn’t resist, especially after working with Sally in 2016.”

Plus, he loves the 1985 movie.

“I was 5 years old and saw it on television starring Tim Curry,” he said. (It had been released to home video, VHS, and other venues the year after.) “I thought it was the coolest movie and quoted from it.”

So much so, that his mother said, whenever her son blabbered, “If it’s about `Clue,’ I’ll kill you.”

Even the set is a treat, as Odom pointed out. “It’s a scenic design from California inspired by Edward Gorey,” Odom explained, showing a photo on his phone of a stately but dark Gothic mansion interior, with a gorgeous chandelier. “He did ‘Dracula’ with Frank Langella, so the colors the characters wear really pop. And there are nine rooms. The set revolves, and there is appearances and disappearances of rooms.”

Also, “There is some singing,” Odom added.

“It’s a scored play and there’s wonderful music,” said Struthers.

Both reflected on Peggy Hickey, the choreographer/director they loved and worked with on shows, especially at The Gateway, “Nice Work If You Can Get It” in 2015 and “A Gentleman’s Guide” in 2021. Hickey, who was part of a number of Gateway productions, sadly died in January.

“For a few years, Peggy would call to say, ‘I need you, let’s do this together,’” said Struthers.

“Then I got the call for The Gateway and ‘Clue’ and I thought, She had something to do with this.”