Think about the foursome of teenage crime solvers from Scooby Doo. Now, think about what it might be like if something horrible happened to Scooby (I am truly sorry for leading you down this path) and the group fell apart as a result, only to be forced to reunite 20 years later to finally avenge his death (I know, it’s very upsetting). Well, you don’t have to think about it anymore, because The Solve It! Squad Returns, a new play by the Tin Can Brothers that just premiered at the Secret Rose Theatre in Los Angeles, answers that question and more, putting a hilarious, sometimes musical new spin on classic teen detective stories.
As teenagers, the Solve It! Squad had a near-perfect track record, cracking nearly every case they investigated—until an especially menacing foe killed their beloved dog, Cluebert (portrayed here by a hand puppet). This is, of course, devastating, and after failing to catch the killer, the group dissolves. Twenty years later, Scrags (Joey Richter), who has never stopped mourning the loss of his best friend, is an actual FBI agent, and is shocked when he’s assigned a case where the perpetrator has a calling card shockingly similar to that of Cluebert’s killer. He reluctantly agrees the old gang has the best chance of catching the criminal due to their personal history, and sets out to round them all up. Keith (Gabe Greenspan), a dimwitted jock who clings to his glory days by selling Solve It! Squad merchandise out of a van on Venice Beach (and also on Etsy), is pretty excited to relive the past. His ex-girlfriend Gwen (Ashley Clements), now a mother of two as well as an actress best known for her role on a popular crime procedural, is happy to come along on the adventure if it might provide some interesting content for her Snapchat story. And Esther (Lauren Lopez), who was always the brains of the operation, has opted to handle her exhaustingly high-functioning mind by becoming a raging drug addict. The case leads them to a spooky motel run by a colorful cast of characters (all played by Brian Rosenthal), and as they seek vengeance for Cluebert, they all realize a few things about themselves and the paths they’ve taken in life in the process.
The play is written by the Tin Can Brothers—Richter, Rosenthal, and Corey Lubowich, who also directed Solve It Squad. While the show is primarily a comedy, it is bookended by a very catchy titular musical number written by Nick Gage. This marks the fourth live show for the Tin Can Brothers, who also have a popular Youtube channel and are perhaps best known for their involvement in the cult favorite A Very Potter Musical. I saw and enjoyed their previous Los Angeles stage show, Spies Are Forever, which was a full musical, and Solve It Squad plays to the group’s strengths even more. With a tight running time of 75 minutes and an emphasis on comedy, there are still just enough of their signature musical elements sprinkled in to set it apart from other productions.
The production design is intentionally sparse, which is part of the play’s appeal—while there are minimal props and no actual doors on the simple set, sound effects of creaky hinges and crashing waves provide ambiance when needed. Some of the loudest laughs of the night followed a scene Rosenthal hilariously performs by himself, alternating between four or five characters distinguished by haphazard wigs and hats. The jokes come flying at you so quickly you might even miss a few through the laughter—to get a taste, at one point, a character thanks the Solve It! Squad for getting a family member “out of a pickle” back in the day and Scrags fondly responds, “ah, the Case of the Human-Eating Pickle!” The dynamic between the characters is complex and well-drawn, even in an absurd situation, and the way they all turned out as adults is both believable and delightfully dark. It is all perfectly played by the talented and funny cast, and, impressively, all four of them have satisfying arcs despite the brief running time. The resolution to the mystery was a bit predictable and not particularly satisfying, but everything leading up to it is so fun that it’s easy to forgive. Ultimately, Solve It! Squad is an impressively hilarious show that manages to evoke nostalgia while still feeling very fresh and exciting.
The Solve It! Squad Returns runs for 7 more performances only, Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm through June 25th, at the Secret Rose Theatre in North Hollywood. Tickets are $25, or you can make a donation to receive a digital ticket to watch a video of the show from wherever in the world you may be. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.solveitsquad.com.