Review: The Shadow of the King

Poison Ivy Mysteries, The Shadow of the King is an interactive mystery-dinner-theatre-musical, written by Annelise Murphy with music composed by Jeff Parkes.

The old king has died and has left the throne to the kingdom of Eltheria up to chance. His three children are vying for the crown. The eldest, Prince Garrick, was raised by pirates. The middle child, Princess Eldamira, is the most learned and the youngest, Prince Valor, is carefree and careless. Throw a whimsical wizard, a mysterious old woman and a lady-in-waiting into the mix and you have a Murder Mystery Show fit for a king! – From the Poison Ivy Mysteries site

I’ll start this out with: if you go to this, you will have FUN! (and even putting that word in all caps with an exclamation point doesn’t quite convey the level of fun you can possibly have). Mystery theatre style is a unique and wonderful theatre experience. It’s exciting to be able to interact with the characters and become part of the show, and even take a shot at solving the mystery.

The cast will interact with you before the show, as you’re arriving, sitting, eating dinner, etc. They will greet you, introduce themselves in character, and get you laughing (and maybe reveal a few motives, so pay attention). From there, they present the show, with some interaction and selected audience participation, but for the most part you get to sit back and enjoy the performance.

Then somebody gets killed. It’s a murder. And now it’s up to you, the audience members to try and solve it. The characters spread out throughout the space and you get to go interrogate them to decide who had the motive, method and opportunity to perpetrate the murder. If you solve it correctly, you get a prize at the end. Fortunately, this game of Clue doesn’t rely on you standing up and giving your theory (we’d be there all night), rather the characters come back together and solve it themselves. If you were right, they’ll announce it and give you a prize.

The three heirs to the throne are played by Jake Wilson (Prince Garrick), Jamie Denison (Princess Eldamira), and Morgan Walton (Prince Valor). Each falls into a stereotypical role for a prince or princess. Garrick is the poor prince who was kidnapped by pirates and raised to be a dashing rogue. Princess Eldamira is a Disney-like princess who can talk to animals (I imagined musical numbers with them, or getting them to clean or make clothes for her). Prince Valor is a clumsy fop who grew up just assuming he’d be king. The Wizard Mananan (played by Criss Rosenlof) channels every wizard from Merlin to Dumbledore. Erin Walton (Corine, the lady in waiting), is our helpful narrator and is able to guide us through the complexities of the show.  Finally, ClaraSusan Morey plays a mysterious old woman with strange and scary behaviors, whom you just know is much more than she seems.

I would have liked to see a bit more exploration of Princess Eldamira in the script, show me some more of the Disney princess parody and less of the spoiled, conniver. Someone with Jamie’s talent could have made something of that, and enjoyed a little more stage time.

For his first Role, Jake Wilson does a wonderful job as Prince Garrick. His interactions with Corine and his verbal sparring with his siblings were spot-on and endeared us to him.

Despite his face being half-covered by a beard and wig, Rosenlof brought out an interesting character in the Wizard. I thought at first he was falling in and out of his accent, but then he proved that his accent was just a put on to help hide his true self and true intentions.

Erin’s face and eyes told us more than her dialogue ever could. From falling in love with Prince Garrick, to figuring out all the motives and dealings of the royal family, I was right there with her, and loved every minute of it.

Morgan and ClaraSusan stole the show in their respective roles. I wondered if some of ClaraSusan’s choices may have been a little over the top, but the audience seemed to love it, and that’s really what matters. Morgan had us laughing in every scene and understood just what would play well for his audience, keeping us laughing every time he came out.

When you’re working in a space like a reception center, the hardest thing to control is the accoustics. If your actor is a bit timid with the mic, or the music is too loud, we get a bad mix, simply because we’re all over the room, rather than having the speakers direct the correct sound out to us. Those who’ve had experience at Poison Ivy, Rosenlof, Denison, and Morgan Walton, were able to make their voices heard with the music. Those who were there for the first time, Wilson, Erin Walton, and Morey, I had a hard time hearing, or, more to the point, understanding when they sang. My advice to them, is to just go for it, particularly Erin (who has a great voice), losing her songs was hard considering the strength of the rest of her performance.

Speaking of the reception center, The Jordanelle Reception Center is a pretty-good venue for Poison Ivy, and one I hope they can stay with. Yes the center is a little out of the way, but isn’t impossible to find, and there’s plenty of parking. The dinner is from Joe Morely’s, which is one of the best barbecue restaurants in Utah. And considering this is supposed to be a medieval feast, the food is more than appropriate (not to mention delicious).

There’s a fight scene I wanted to mention. An extended fencing scene between the three royals (with the wizard thrown in just for fun). It’s very well choreographed, and exciting. I think the actors could stand to relax a little more, and “let the steel fly”, at the time of this performance it seemed like they were thinking more of their timing, rather than their objective in the fight. It’s tough, because you want to concentrate strictly on not hurting your cast mates. Morgan seemed closest to this when he was defending himself, but not always in his attacks. Rosenlof, being a trained and experienced martial artist and sword fighter, didn’t seem to have that difficulty.

There seemed to be a problem with a spilled drink throwing off the ending of the show (which the audience wouldn’t let them forget), I guess he was supposed to drink it? That’s my assumption based on the final dialogue about who had the opportunity to put the poison in his drink.

It may be unrelated to the drink situation, but the final reveal of the killer was anti-climatic. Not because it wasn’t a surprise, rather I’m not sure if the killer was supposed to say, when finally admitting to the deed, “yes I did it,” but since that didn’t come out as strongly as I wanted it to, I was confused for a moment as to whether they were the culprit or not until their sentence was passed down by the remaining cast members. I think that pulled the wind out of the audience’s sails for the ending. Fortunately, Morgan came out to introduce cast and crew to us and read a few funny mystery solutions, and finally who the winners were. This brought our mood back up and saved the evening.

Poison Ivy Mysteries presents Shadow of the King, performs Fridays January 7th, 21st and 28th at the Jordanelle Reception Center, 2295 West Sugar Factory Drive (8250 S.) West Jordan, Utah. Tickets are $25 with dinner or $15 for just the show. Show starts at 7 PM.

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3 Responses to Review: The Shadow of the King

  1. Annelise says:

    Thanks Jc for a great review. I really appreciated the details of what you were confused about or what was lacking. It is very helpful to get an outsiders view of what was not quite clear to the audience. As for the drink situation, it was supposed to be spilled and happened as a red herring situation for those paying attention. I will relook at the ending dialogue to see if I can make that less confusing. Also, I’m still trying to figure out the best way to reveal the killer. Each script has such varying degrees of finale “suspense and reveal” and I am still working on getting the reveal right. (Sometimes too slow…sometimes not clear…everyone just wants to know if they got it right but as the author I need to explain why things came down the way that they did). Also, I believe that depending on what information you were able to discern and what conclusion you came to, have a definite affect on that as well. Do I make it more obvious or more of a surprise? I try to make it that if the audience does all of the footwork and asks all the questions, then they should be able to figure it out. As that may be, I will see if I can make the reveal more clear…thanks!
    I also appreciate your comment about the Princess…originally we were going to have a song where she sung to the animals…but it never came to fruition. I do want to explore that a bit more especially when we do it again and change the outcome…it could add to the motive (maybe an animal accomplice?). Anyway, I am so glad that you had fun. It was a great show and as this type of genre is still being explored by both actors and patrons…we are slowly “figuring out” the intricacies of Murder Mystery.
    Also…Nate Drew also wrote music for Shadow of the King as well.

  2. Papa Bear says:

    “Rosenlof, being a trained and experienced martial artist and sword fighter, didn’t seem to have that difficulty.” EXCEPT when I almost missed Morgan’s downstroke and lost a leg (thanks, Morg, for not giving me yet ANOTHER reason to hurt!).

    I’m glad you liked it as well. I have fallen in love with this genre of theater, and I think I will continue to do these shows until Annelise refuses to hire me anymore!

  3. Miss Erin says:

    JC –

    I have a totally different view of the Princess. My understanding was always that she was MEANT to be Disney-esque, but in exploring the character (and with Jamie’s portrayal) she ended up being – to me at least – pretty wicked, and a lot like the Red Queen from “Alice in Wonderland”. I mean, if you ask Corine about her during questioning, you’ll discover that Princess Eldamira has actually physically abused her! No Disney there….

    But, like Annelise, I appreciate the specificity of your review, and look to improve where I can. Next time, write some horrible things about Morgan, would ya? He needs to be taken down a notch 🙂

    Look forward to working under you, I mean….with you in the future.


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