As virtual theatre becomes more widespread, more innovative ways of producing online content have emerged. One recent invention has been the creation of episodic musicals - rather than be viewed in one go, they are cut down into bite-size chunks with the idea of viewing them a bit of a time like a TV series... though obviously the option to binge it all in one go is still there.
That brings me on to A Killer Party - a murder mystery musical spread over 9 episodes. Already a hit in the US where it was written as a response to the closure of theatres last year, it has now traveled across the pond with the series adapted for UK audiences. Written by Rachel Axler and Kait Kerrigan, the series takes a show within a show approach when a real murder occurs. What follows is over 90 minutes of hilarity and chaos.
A stellar cast of stage and screen stars have been assembled to form the suspects. Jason Manford leads the way as Varthur McArthur, joined by a cast including sitcom legend Harriet Thorpe (in her second virtual production this week following the brilliant Eurobeat) and a smattering of stage legends including Rachel Tucker, Cedric Neal, Lucas Rush, Ben Forster and Oscar Conlon-Morrey,
Classic murder mystery tropes are played out to brilliant effect as new life is brought to tried and tested measures we have seen so many times before. Brilliantly directed by Benjio Sperring and produced by Aria Ents, all cast members filmed their scenes separately in their own house but due to some incredibly clever editing, nothing is lost from them not being in the same room together. Tongue in cheek references to all the rooms looking the same make it clear that the producers of A Killer Party are in on the joke and laughing with us.
With music from Jason Howland and Nathan Tysen, A Killer Party isn't your usual slice of musical theatre - with a much more contemporary sounding soundtrack which seems heavily influenced by other songs, whether intentional or not. Throughout the piece, you will be reminded of Dreamgirls, The Greatest Showman, big 80s power ballads and even some smooth 90s R&B - never knowing what musical style you are going to get next adds to the charm. The consistent high standard of all the songs means that no matter the style, you are bound to be grinning away.
Oscar Conlon-Morrey delivers a standout turn as Shea Crescendo, delivering one of the theatre highlights this year with his big ballad 'Circus on the sea' complete with an ensemble of himself, himself and himself in a way only Oscar could do. West End and Broadway legend Rachel Tucker effortlessly steals the scene with her big number 'Live Out Loud' while Ben Forster has one of the funniest numbers of the night as a miniature version of himself in the hilarious 'Big Cat', and you've not seen anything until you see Cedric Neal and Debbie Kurup slay all competition with their killer duet 'I Did It For You'.
Emma Salvo pieces the whole thing together as she tries to get to the bottom of the mystery as Traffic Cop turned Detective Justine Case. The series also regularly pans back to the effortlessly funny Harriet Thorpe as Detective Case as she tries to write her novel in the musical within a show within a series within a book. Are you keeping up? That makes one of us.
While murder mysteries are sent up in A Killer Party, lovers of the genre won't be disappointed in the way the mystery plays out - including a massive twist that is foreshadowed with so many hints throughout the series, you will be kicking yourself you didn't pick up on it. The reveal is as satisfying as you would hope, tying in all elements of the show and providing a fantastic conclusion.
A brilliant new take on not just a murder mystery but on virtual theatre in itself. Having A Killer Party as a series was an inspired touch. The only problem is each episode is so damn good, you'll want to watch the next one immediately. Filled with brilliant performances from a cast who are clearly loving every minute, A Killer Party is pure joy from start to finish, guaranteed to split your sides. Who knew murder could be so fun?
A Killer Party is available to stream until May 30th with the option to buy an episode at a time or the entire series at once. Get access at https://www.stream.theatre/season/66