I recently attended a local production of "The Amazing Food Detective," a program from Kaiser Permanente intended to teach kids about health and nutrition. I can honestly say that I have seldom enjoyed an experience in a theater more. I laughed my butt off, and so did the rest of the audience.
Okay, so almost everybody there was in elementary school, but I'm telling you, it was genuinely funny. The kids in real life actually looked like they were having as much fun as the kids in the picture on this page. The crowd participation was 100%. It was everything you want a mystery to be -- surprising and satisfying.
As with many mysteries, even if you knew the ending from the start (in this case, junk food is to blame for a soccer player's lethargy), the play still managed to take unexpected, entertaining turns. For example: at one point the Food Detective, looking for clues, pops out of a trash can; at another point he pulls a pair of enormous underpants out of his vest. Yes -- Kaiser Permanente understood the play's audience very well.
I couldn't help but notice detective fiction tropes throughout. The Amazing Food Detective in this particular production put on a plaid hat when he got serious about detecting, and made use of a massive magnifying glass. (Our detective was a man; refreshingly, the detective on Kaiser's website and game is a woman.) These accoutrements and others reference Sherlock Holmes, but our Food Detective didn't smoke a pipe -- after all, this is a kids' play put on by a health insurance company. (I wonder if kids nowdays know Sherlock Holmes. Probably not, but perhaps they know Sherlock Hemlock from Sesame Street. He doesn't smoke a pipe either.)
Other mystery tropes -- the finding of clues and the moments of discovery -- were greatly exaggerated in the play. The Food Detective, we learn, is in the business of collecting "A-Ha"s. Whenever he found a clue, the audience was instructed to yell out "A-HA!" (which we did with great enthusiasm). Additionally, we got the detective story mainstay of the damsel in distress when a soda can puppet spoke to the Food Detective in a sultry Southern accent, saying "Aren't you thirsty? Come and have a sip of little old me!".
The play ends with the players telling the audience that we are ALL food detectives. A nice ending for anybody, age four to forty-four to four hundred.