‘Murders’ offers mystery, laughs, surprises
Twice Fairfield High School drama coach Scott Slechta suggested I find former Ledger staff writer Bobby Lowenberg’s 1993 review of “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.” So, after attending the Broadway Players of FHS dress rehearsal Tuesday evening, I went digging through the old musty, dusty bound volumes of Ledgers downstairs in the “morgue.”
Lowenberg’s review of the FHS students’ 1993 production of the play really was good … I couldn’t do a better job … So here is Lowenberg’s review, but of course, updated with the names and information relevant to the FHS students’ 2012 production:
Best kept secret in town: The identity of the Stage Door Slasher. After viewing Tuesday’s invitation-only performance of “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940” by the Broadway Players of FHS, I now know the slasher’s identity, but I ain’t telling.
To add to the mystery, on the program the characters’ names are not even identified with their players. For good reason. You’ll have to see the play to find out.
The setting: The estate of a wealthy “angel” where a creative team is gathered for a backer’s audition for their new show. (In their previous show, three chorus girls were murdered by the Stage Door Slasher.) A blizzard is in progress, the telephone is dead, the power keeps failing, and once again, the slasher is felling victims like a logger gone wild in the forest.
The set: A large room, which is the hub of a maze of secret passageways, revealed by a revolving bookcase (triggered by a pen on the desk) and a sliding wall panel. There’s also a closet — handy for stashing bodies, both living and dead — and a small sliding panel in a bookcase just the right size for an arm to reach through and stab its victim. The set is elaborate, a real technical feat and obviously required much work. Knives, guns, meat cleavers abound — choose your weapon.
Lights, action: With introductions and necessary niceties attended to, the cast gets down to business. Murder becomes epidemic. The living just keep piling the bodies outside in a snowdrift. One expects Angela Lansbury to appear at any moment and take command.
No need. A New York City policeman and a Naval intelligence officer finally reveal their identities, each present for a different reason. The police sergeant wants the slasher; the intelligence officer wants a German saboteur, who also has found his way to the estate. To complicate matters, another character impersonates a policeman.
Playwright John Bishop continually pokes fun at Hollywood, its people, their actions and affectations. Consequently, the stereotypes in characterizations are intentional. Which brings us to …
The characters: Each player has successfully created a personality distinct from the others and one that suits his character.
Helsa, the German maid, who is killed and stashed almost immediately. As quickly, she returns to life and goes about her maid duties with German accent and total abruptness. She moves in and out like a marching Nazi soldier. And with as much warmth. How could one not suspect her?
Elsa, the wealthy, theater-lover benefactress, in fur stole and formal dress, is soft and appropriately melodramatic as she floats about the stage taking charge of her guests, seeing to their needs and being the lady of the house. Her gestures and “my deah’s” are proper window dressing for her character as is her not always seeming to know exactly what’s going on. Who could suspect her?
Michael Kelly, trying to be in charge, but continually having authority wrested from him. He conveys patience and frustration. His pantomime scene with Elsa is a laugh-gettter. He struggles to signal her from across the room as her memory fails when she tries to relate what was found in the mysterious box of evidence. She keeps misinterpreting his hand signals. Could Kelly be the bad guy?
Patrick O’Reilly. Yes, he has a brogue and dark hair. And he handles blarney with ease. He could be the guilty one, but probably would talk his way out of it.
Ken DeLaMaize, the director. His voice and affectation suggest his connection with the theater. That and his constant talk about the shows he’s worked on, the actors he’s directed. Never mind that the shows have not been released. He’s a phony. Add him to the suspect list.
Nikki Crandall, supposedly a chorus girl, looking for a part in the show. She’s open, young, fresh and smart, determined to break the code in the appointment book. And there’s something happening between her and —
Eddie McCuen, a comic looking for his big break. And he is funny. His timing is right. He’s cute and likeable from his smile and short-cropped hair to his bow tie, plaid pants and dress shoes, a study in perpetual motion, certainly at ease on stage, whether in two galoshes or one. He does everything with gusto, especially that tricky little shuffle and finger snap.
One of the funniest scenes is Eddie’s discovery of Helsa and O’Reilly in what appears to be lovemaking. Actually, they are trying to kill each other. Eddie shields his eyes and stammers apologies as he retreats from the room.
My reaction to Eddie and Nikki — PLEASE don’t let either one be the slasher!
Marjorie Baverstock wears her position and wealth in such a way everyone is aware of it. Alas, she exits early. Sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time. But she remains seated as performers audition, thinking she is disapproving, but soon discover she’s dead. Eliminate her as a suspect.
Roger Hopewell, arty, but in an unobtrusive way. His bright scarf, animal-print silk shirt and slicked down hair give him away, however. He’s much too pleasant to be the slasher. And probably lacks the courage.
Bernice Roth, the free spirit relaxed — with that much booze in her, how could she be anything else? She is creative. Her colorful “creative” costume tells us that. And she faints a lot, usually upon seeing bodies. Her, the slasher? Not with that weak stomach.
The players: Josh Alonso, Austin Blomme, Kara Greiner, Brennan Harward, Coren Hucke, Paige Holderbaum, Madison Nelson, Claudia Sloat, Jorge Whitley and TJ Wood.
The director: Scott Slechta, as always, full of innovative touches in this case to make mystery more mysterious and funny things funnier.
The student assistant director is Rachel Biggs, with Jessie Warner and Clara Kelly.
Showtimes: “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940”will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Fairfield High School Auditorium.
Click below to see photos of the suspects!