Complete with double identities, hidden passages, murders, and mystery, The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 is the type of comedy that blends the serious with the silly. Sharply directed by Jane B. Wingard, and written by John Bishop (with original music by Geoff Trowbridge) The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 is old school, comedic-thriller, theater-funk that puts jive in its jokes.
The story took place in the Chappaqua, New York mansion of Elsa Von Grossenknueten (Heather Tuckfield) in December 1940 and ostensibly followed the mysterious misadventures of the team behind a Broadway flop as they come together for an audition for a new musical—yet danger lurked. As one character put it: “Nancy Drew would be in Seventh Heaven here.” The eccentric creatives included arrogant director Ken de la Maize (the excellent Andrew Parr), hoofer Nikki Crandall (the fabulous Christa Kronser), comedian Eddie McEuen (the outstanding Nicholas Mudd), Marjorie Baverstock (Jeanne Louise), Roger Hopewell (the hilarious James Huchla) and Bernice Roth (Erin Lorenz).
A potent component of the show was its gorgeous set that created an I-want-to-get-cozy verisimilitude, thanks to Set and Scenic Designer Wingard and Joanne D. Wilson, who ran Properties. With handsome flats, each over a dozen feet high, painted to look like wood paneling; impressive faux bookshelves; a vintage ’30s radio; an eye-catching chandelier, and a staid, black piano which sat house left, the set created a superior theatrical milieu for the cast to perform. Scenic Carpenter Valendo and his assistant Todd Wingard created seamless panels that lead to the aforementioned hidden passages.
Beth Terranova delivered magnificent performances as Grossenknueten’s maid, and several other characters. Terranova, through uncannily good stage presence, claimed every scene she was in as her own.
Parr, in his white suit, complete with a red carnation in his lapel thanks to Costumer Linda Swann, played de la Maize as the type of film-star-obsessed jerk you root against. Wendell Holland played Michael Kelly, a character with a secret identity. In keeping with the secret identity theme, Gene Valendo was excellent affecting several different accents, including the Irish brogue he gave Patrick O’Reilly.
Mudd brought humor and innocence to comedian Eddie McEuen; Mudd and his co-star Kronser created on-stage heat as characters with not only an affinity for each other, but a motivation to get to the bottom of the shenanigans at the Grossenknueten estate.
Huchla made his character Roger Hopewell rather flamboyant. Lorenz showed her expertise in physical comedy through her character’s frequent passing-out-pratfalls. Louise effectively played Marjorie Baverstock and Ben Rollins played a frightening character that played a hard-wired part in the story’s mysteries.
Wingard made sure her cast threw and caught their cues at the speed of light. Fight Choreographer Katie McCarren helped stage many physical altercations in the show. I liked the music cues, “played” on the radio by Huchla and Sandy Melson Griese. With strong comedic performances, period slang like “swell,” “jeepers” and “hot dog,” and laughs a minute, The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 is a gratifying way to spend an evening at the theater.
Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 plays through February 24, 2018, at 2nd Star Productions performing at The Bowie Playhouse – 16500 Whitemarsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 757- 5700, or purchase them online.