Think death isn’t a laughing matter? Spitfire Comedy House’s “NCIS: St. Pete” is about to change your mind. From local director Pat Connelly, this limited-run murder mystery is guaranteed to have you chuckling at corpses, caution tape and everything in between.
“The real NCIS TV show is a federal agent police procedural drama,” Connelly said. “Our version is an improvised parody of that.”
Featuring a rotating cast of 12 local comedians (including Connelly), “NCIS: St. Pete” has many of the same themes as the original televised Hollywood hit. It’s fast-paced, forensically oriented, puzzling and intelligent — it just also happens to be funny.
Last weekend, we attended one of the first performances of the eight-week “whodunnit.”
Making death a laughing matter
“NCIS: St. Pete” starts just like the real NCIS with a Petty Officer who died under mysterious circumstances. Where it differs, however, is that those circumstances are directly influenced by the audience.
“At the beginning of each show, we get a suggestion from the crowd to get the story’s plot,” Connelly said. “That suggestion guides us in the story from there.”
Each performance, therefore, is made up — live — on the spot.
“Our story is a classic murder mystery,” Connelly said, “But it’s interesting because we don’t know how it’s going to start or end. We come up with characters and suspects on the fly until we can figure out who did it.”
“NCIS: St. Pete’” stars six performers, from the pool of 12 Tampa Bay comedians who were cast, per night. Half of that cast plays agents, while the other half are auxiliary support characters, suspects and witnesses. Since there are obviously many people involved in a murder case, the non-agent cast members are forced to take on multiple roles at a time. Keeping track of the characters (and watching them make fun of each other, despite being played by the same person) is arguably the show’s funniest part.
Bringing Hollywood to life in St. Pete
“’NCIS: St. Pete’ is an easy-to-watch show that is still interesting and funny,” Connelly said. “The TV version has a consistent structure that I thought would translate well to a live show. During the first few weeks of rehearsal I wondered what I’d gotten myself into, but — by the end — I knew I was right. I felt we had a really good show on our hands.”
When we watched the production this past weekend, we agreed. The plot was engaging, the stakes were high and the cast did a great job of translating the audience’s (bizarre) suggestion into a full-fleshed storyline with a satisfying resolution.
“The best thing about ‘NCIS: St. Pete’ is the surprise of figuring out ‘who did it.’” Connelly said. “We have no idea where the story is going to end when it starts, but it always does end. We always figure it out.”
From our seats in the top row of the theater, that process had us engaged and laughing — even in the face of death.
Ready to watch ‘NCIS: St. Pete’?
“NCIS: St. Pete” runs each Saturday night through June immediately following the theater’s iconic “Whose Line Is It Anyways?” show. Tickets are $25 a piece, and can be purchased here.
Due to the limited nature of the production, we highly recommend buying tickets in advance. With murder, mystery and jokes on the line, this one is going to go fast.
Spitfire Comedy House is located at 1920 1st Ave S, near Tropicana Field. To purchase tickets or view the theater’s full upcoming production schedule, click here.