The play is a real murder mystery, with complications and suspense. But it is also a comedy, a parody of mysteries set in mansions isolated from the world by a blizzard, with lots of theatrical in-jokes piled on.
This isolated mansion belongs to Elsa Von Grossenknueten, a wealthy backer of plays and the granddaughter of a renowned German spymaster. Espionage runs in her blood, she claims. That's why she's eager to reopen the case of the Stage Door Slasher. The role lets Kay Love revel in the oddities of a wealthy eccentric.
Elsa has invited a number of people from the "Manhattan Holida"y production to come to her house for what purports to be a backers' audition for a new musical, "White House Merry-Go-Round." She's really set it up as a way to trap the Stage Door Slasher. She's enlisted the help of a New York police detective, played by Michael Barrows-Fitzgerald.
But as soon as the curtain is up, Elsa's maid, the very blonde and very German Helsa Wenzel, is murdered. But then Helsa reappears to welcome the guests! Or is it Helsa? If not, who? Whoever, the Helsas are all played, very well, by Sally Sinclair, though her German accent got too thick for me to follow sometimes.
Director Ken De La Maize arrives, now gone Hollywood, disdainful of lesser mortals in Preston R. Murchison's portrayal. Ray Shea appears as Patrick O'Reilly, an Irish actor in full brogue who turns out to be – but no, he's actually – well, somebody else. Janet Robey-Schwartz swans about grandly as Marjorie Baverstock, one of the producers. Nikki Crandall auditions for the chorus, and Amanda Vick makes her a charmer. Eddie McCuen is a comedian trying to break into Broadway, and Will Bonfiglio has authentic comic timing. Bernice Roth and Roger Hopewell wrote the words and music for both "Manhattan Holiday" and "White House Merry-Go-Round." Ken Lopinot gives Roger a deep Southern accent and surprising smarts, and Janice Bruns-Mantovani is gloriously unlike I've ever seen her as the booze-swilling lyricist. Patrick Klick plays the mysterious L. Keller.
Robert Thibaut directed with a firm grasp of the style and many clever ideas, though the production appeared not quite to have gelled on opening night, perhaps because of rehearsals missed during our own blizzards. Jim Riddle's set answers well to both wealth and mystery, with some wittily pointed lighting by Nathan Schroeder. Tracey Newcomb-Margrave's costumes fit period and character, and sound designers Rory Dale, Laura Ogilvie, and Lee Meyer contribute creepiness.
Already fun, "Musical Comedy Murders of 1940" will be even more fun as the cast settles in.