Greg Poupon has an accusation to make. After a suspenseful show of his deductive reasoning skills, he concludes…that the only possible culprit is himself. Confronted by the consequences of his incorrect self-accusation, he is granted one last swan song, and promptly launches into a melodramatic rendition of Les Miserables’ “I Dreamed a Dream,” hacking away at his grey wig with a pair of craft scissors and the requisite frenzy. This is Definitely Not Clue.
Definitely Not Clue
Pixel Playhouse’s Definitely Not Clue is a slapstick, murder-mystery/musical crossover parody on streaming platform Twitch. Created by Graham Wetterhahn, Vijay Nazareth, KJ Knies, Andrew Schmedake, and Sara Ashley Beil (and supported by an immensely talented cast and crew), this free, kid-friendly, two-hour experience is a heavily improvised show with a different culprit and ending every night, based on audience voting and puzzle completion. This tech-savvy team is able to leverage the strengths of the Twitch platform to create a large-scale, remote, interactive performance that still feels personal and can engage an all-ages audience. With graphics that stun and delight, and effects that create a sense of digital magic, Definitely Not Clue is relentlessly campy and uniquely representative of its digital space. The production company, Pixel Playhouse, specializes in delivering traditional theater-quality musical productions from the convenience of a participant’s laptop or phone.
The show feels like a cross between a love letter to a genre, and a series of shared inside jokes. Heavy on situational comedy, and unabashedly framed as a parody, there are nevertheless moments of surprising tenderness and human fallibility throughout the show, often when the audience least expects them. As the motives of each suspect are unveiled, we get an honest glimpse into the lingering insecurities, frustrations, and unrequited loves that didn’t end just because high school did. While the narrative is not exceptionally deep, the use of meta-narrative and genre-bending is effective without being overly complicated.
Party with the Drama Kids
Definitely Not Clue creates a playful, musical, and interactive space that can be enjoyed by hundreds of audience members simultaneously. With the quintessential over-the-top emotions of musical theater, the show emphasizes layered jokes and references to the board game Clue, popular musicals, Jumanji, murder-mystery dinners, and all of the natural drama of high school. The show brings silliness right out of the gate, with one character making sure the audience knows that the musical they were in together in high school was called Clues, not Clue, since the off-brand junior musical script they used wasn’t able to get the rights to the actual board game name. This sets the tone for the show’s offbeat parody – it is, after all, Definitely Not Clue. In Rocky Horror-style, repeat participants are fond of anticipating and riffing on some of their favorite lines, adding an additional layer of humor to the experience. This is the ideal whimsical improv piece to blow off steam with on a weekend, preferably with your own old high school friends.
It is worth noting that some participants, especially those not naturally inclined to the musical theater space, may find the acting a bit cheesy and over the top. The show is heavily geared toward children (as Pixel Playhouse’s work often is), and light enough that many jokes don’t land on an adult audience. This is no somber murder-mystery, the mood is self-referential and nostalgic, as any good high school reunion should be. Fun, colorful, and theatrical, Definitely Not Clue is the sort of show that is born out of absolute love for the genres it parodies.
The Beloved Suspects
The incredibly talented cast shines in improv, interactivity, and musicality. Matthew Scott Montgomery is a fan favorite as Mr. Body, the show’s likable, mischievous, and oddly sensual villain. Harrison Meloeney is touching as the well-intentioned but ultimately self-defeating Sherlockian Greg Poupon. Julia Black’s Ruby Rose also captures the hearts of participants as they glimpse the nostalgia and insecurity underlying her proud exterior. Jaime Lyn Beatty is an absolute riot as the wacky and elaborately deceitful Astrid Pit, and Trent Mills gives a memorable performance as the all-too-relatable Levi Blanc – without whose codependent parental relationship all would have been lost. Sterling Sulieman flawlessly captures the unique infatuation of young love as the bold and heartbroken Forest Pine, and audiences can’t help but root for Janaya Jones’s vaguely surly Ava LeFowl to get her moment in the spotlight. And who could forget Jonathan Bennett as Jonathan Bennett, the member of the friend group nobody remembered inviting and nobody remembered to rescue from the digital void?
Twitch is a platform built with an emphasis on its community interacting in the chat, and Pixel Playhouse are expertly versed in this. Moderated by “The Groundskeeper,” the chat provides a social space where participants can coordinate, solve puzzles, make jokes, and connect. Participants function as the characters’ lifelines to the outside world while joking along, commenting and reacting as the story unfolds. Mischievous repeat attendees are fond of trying to cajole newer attendees into intentionally making ridiculous choices, in the hopes of seeing ridiculous outcomes. But participation is not required for those who just want to watch. Puzzles are solved as a group, and the show progresses linearly and communally, but bolder participants will be treated to real-time character responses to their chats, inside jokes, and inspired improv riffs.
There are some trade-offs to the chat format – attendees who are used to more traditional theater might find the chat distracting, and might be frustrated at the thought of missing jokes or content while they’re focused on the on-screen action. The chat moves quickly, and with hundreds of people attempting to coordinate game decisions, report puzzle solutions, grab attention, or push a desired ending, things can get a little chaotic. There were also a handful of times when my mega-fan chat companions spoiled a reveal by chatting a key piece of dialogue before a character actually said it.
The Brains Behind the Drama
The tech team behind Definitely Not Clue manages to integrate Zoom, Twitch, and custom graphics seamlessly, resulting in hilarious Zoom effects like the characters’ Zoom squares being sucked into the digital void, or, an audience favorite, one character being mercilessly morphed into a potato. The Jumanji trope gets an ironic makeover as the characters are forced to compete in a virtual game of Clue lest they be “deleted” by Mr. Body. Background and costume changes mark the transition into the game space in a whimsical way, and provide comedic fodder for the characters, who claim to have no control over their costumes and settings. Each character also has their likeness designed into a custom Clue card that pops up on screen during key game moments.
Face the Music
As a musical piece, the sound design, composition, and musical performances themselves are absolutely first class. In addition to directing and arranging all of the musical numbers, the exceptionally talented Jennifer Lin also plays live piano accompaniment during the show, one of the highlights of the experience. One of the first things that participants hear as they filter in is Lin’s winding and suspenseful instrumentals mixed with the sound of thunder, set against the backdrop of the Clue house welcome screen. Each performer’s solo is astounding in its own right, generally ironically paired to their in-show fate in an over-the-top celebration of musical melodrama, and the parody version of “Cell Block Tango” had even the most skeptical audience members in stitches. It is worth noting that each performer has immense musical talent on top of their acting and improv skills, making this a truly powerhouse cast. The musical numbers set the show apart, spark delight and nostalgia, and carry the show as participants experience the unique space of a live, remote, murder-mystery musical.
A Toast to Murder
The partnership with Spirit Guides provides audience members with an opportunity to take the party to the next level with fun, themed cocktails that help set the mood. The package includes two different recipes, portioned out for two, and the recipes to make them. Prior to the show, Spirit Guides contacts participants to recommend the ideal time to make each drink and to provide instructional videos for visual learners. The drinks themselves are relatively straightforward, but the tie-ins between the flavors and the character names (fresh pine needles in the “Forest Pine,” for example) make them thematically immersive in a fun way. One drawback is that the instructions reference tools that the average participant may not have in their home, such as shakers and types of glasses. Overall, the pairing elevates the experience while providing a brief and whimsical intro to mixology for the curious novice.
While there are multiple endings to Definitely Not Clue, audience collaboration is required to achieve them, making the experience also an experiment in social engineering of sorts. The completion of puzzles is required to achieve various plot points, but given the level of attendance and the simplicity of the puzzles, this is rarely at risk. The puzzles are also highly visual in nature and are often themselves inside jokes and references to some of the show’s sillier conflicts and plot points. One puzzle, for example, is printed on an Applebee’s “2 for $20” menu, a reference to a famous fight between Forest and Ruby that was described at the beginning of the show. Another involves the incriminating birth certificate of Astrid Pit, who is very much not a Swedish foreign exchange student. The collaborative nature of the experience creates a uniquely fast-paced social situation where there’s always something to read, say, solve, vote on, or make note of (a themed detective sheet is provided for this exact purpose). All of this is occurring while live acting, singing, and improv is taking place on the main screen, resulting in a highly stimulating show experience.
Definitely Not Clue showcases the diversity of its cast and crew by incorporating an innovative format and genre awareness for an effective homage and parody. The team pushes the envelope both technologically and stylistically, doing a great deal in synchronicity over the course of the show. In spite of the lofty thematic and logistical decisions, the show manages to pull off a seamless performance in a way that leaves audiences convinced that murder-mystery and musical theater have always belonged together. The immensely talented team behind the collaboration successfully sets the stage for a new frontier of digital theater. This show is family-friendly and suitable for all ages, and has already begun to collect a Rocky Horror-style cult following of people who enjoy laughing along, playing into the anticipated plot points, and using the chat to vie for their own moment in the spotlight. Participants should expect campy musical melodrama and must leave pretensions at the door in favor of letting loose and celebrating nostalgic theater.