Production Review for THE MUSICAL COMEDY MURDERS OF 1940

By Tom Valentine
It was a dark and stormy night….no, really. We are in the elegant drawing room of the Von Grossenknueten mansion…seriously. The wind howls outside, church bells 14856147_10155416909228696_6444047354495611016_oominously chime in the distance, the lights flicker and the room goes dark. What’s next…a murder?? Exactly!! This is just in the opening moments of the play, “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940”. And if one murder is not enough, wait around because the bodies begin to fall faster than the snow outside.
Front and Centre Stage is winding down their 2016 season with this comedy spoof that continues at The Cumberland Theater November 25,26,and 27 with all shows at 8 pm. It contains many of the campy elements, fun, and farce that audiences would expect – and they are not disappointed.
The brilliant set design , by Paul Chiarenza, includes secret passages, moving bookcases, period piece furniture, a body in the closet,  and flickering candles that all add to the atmosphere of the play.
 Also noteworthy are the authentic looking costumes for the authentic looking characters with smoking jackets, ascots, tuxedoes, berets, maid outfits, ugly bow ties, and flowing diva dresses.
With a large cast running around on stage, doors slamming, bookcases moving, and bodies dieing, Director Jordan Kline has his  hands full to make the timing and traffic patterns work. He does not disappoint.
Rather than try to summarize the intricate plot, be assured there are all the moments you would expect – the phone is dead…is she dead….secret codes….is he dead…disguises…mistaken identities…knives and meat cleavers….foreign accents….more mistaken identities…what do we do with the body…and finally (spoiler alert), catching the killer.
This is no ordinary killer either. “The Stage Door Slasher” has stalked this particular theater group and has obviously followed them to this remote setting.
The purposefully stereotyped characters are archetypes of stage and screen and when gathered together in the library by the Detective (“I suspect Miss Peacock in the library with the meat cleaver”), we don’t care if it all seems familiar – it adds to the humor of the evening.
Both Linda Julien and Kevin Shreve look like they just stepped off the back lot of a movie set. Shreve has a great character beard and presence while Julien is delightful as the rich and eccentric producer of shows. She is quite  flamboyant and the perfect hostess for this quaint and colorful collection of characters.
Robert Godfrey is pompous and egotistic as the dashing director and nice to see him once again on stage. Daniel Chambers adds authenticity as the music writer, especially when he sits at the grand piano and tinkles the ivories. As the Irish tenor O’Reilly (oh, really??) Bryan Murtha has to master several accents.
A love sub plot is played out by an unfunny comedian Kirk Yutzy with the ingenue with a past, Aimee Conley. Both work very well together.  Add a booze drinking Bernice (Heidi Gardner) and high class society matron (Beth Hilliker) and we have a fine ensemble that works well together with lots of interaction.
Brittney Stakem is both stoic and comical as Helsa, the German maid. She intimidates with her German accent as she struts and marches across the stage.
Stakem is a twin….or a triplet…is killed…or alive…is the murderer…or a victim…
 Confused? You won’t be after reserving tickets and seeing “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940”. Note that there is no matinee performance. Tickets are available at the door or at   https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-musical-comedy-murders-of-1940-tickets-29197322979

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