By John Lyle Belden
In the whodunit world, things are never as they first appear. “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940,” by John Bishop, is presented by Carmel Community Players, but in Noblesville, as CCP is still raising funds for a hometown stage.
Also, there’s not a whole lot of music. It’s more about making and staging a musical, with only a couple of choruses sung. And, really, it’s about the murders of 1938, when the show “Manhattan Holiday” flopped in part because the cast mutinied after chorus girls were knocked off one by one by the Stage Door Slasher, who was never caught.
So, now, in late 1940, we are in the home of “angel” investor Elsa Von Grossenknueten (Richelle Lutz), who is gathering fellow persons involved in “Manhattan Holiday” who wish to pitch a new musical, “White House Merry-Go-Round.” She also invited a friend, Michael Kelly (Sam Brown), a very thinly-disguised NYPD Detective. We should also note that the maid, Helsa Wenzel (Tanya Haas), a fellow Bavarian who Elsa brought to America when things got rough in Germany (note the date), was apparently killed by a masked phantom in the opening scene, then comes back unharmed doing her regular duties minutes later. Also – and this is important to both the plot and the comedy – the house is riddled with secret doors and passages, with practically every wall on stage capable of opening or revolving.
Arriving through the snowstorm that will trap them there (naturally) are charming but unfunny comic Eddie McCuen (Jeffrey Haber), stage and screen director Ken De La Maize (Kelly Keller), chorine turned actress Nikki Crandall (Hannah Janowicz), overbearing producer Marjorie Baverstock (Eboni Wallace), Irish tenor Patrick O’Reilly (Robert Fimreite) and bickering songwriting duo Roger Hopewell (Eric Bowman) and Bernice Roth (Amber Roth). Note that by the final curtain, a number of these characters will each turn out to be someone entirely different – this includes, of course, the Stage Door Slasher!
Directed by Elizabeth Ruddell, whose assistant, the mysterious O. Carrier, performs the phantom, this play embraces both mystery and farce. The former is complicated by encroaching shadows of war, and the latter gets wacky even to the point of a “Scooby-Doo” moment among sliding and spinning doors. Standout performances include Haas being full of surprises, Keller stylishly dropping names in his alleged films, Haber showing the talent it takes to be good at being “bad,” and Janowicz playing a true triple-threat – singing, dancing, and firearms.
Four performances remain, Thursday through Sunday, March 2-5, at the Ivy Tech Noblesville Auditorium, 300 N. 17th St. Get info and tickets at CarmelPlayers.org.