Housed in the Longmont Performing Arts Center on Main Street, the Longmont Theatre Company is front and center in L-town. A veritable cornucopia of bars and restaurants surround the performing arts center, making dinner-and-a-show a simple proposition. Add to its prime location that tickets to a Longmont Theatre Company production are always quite reasonably priced, and you quickly start to run out of reasons not to turn off the TV for a night and go take in some genuine, live theater.
The Longmont Theatre Company’s latest is The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940. Don’t let the name fool you; The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 is not a musical at all. It is a silly, loping, lighthearted whodunit, a period farce that also sends up show business types by parading stereotype after stereotype across the stage.
On, of course, a dark and stormy night in 1940 during a blizzard that threatens to completely shut down the Eastern seaboard, wealthy patron of the arts Elsa Von Grossenknueten (Brie Michaels) and her trusty Teutonic maid, Helsa Wenzel ( Julie Marino), prepare to host a private “backers audition” of a new musical. Elsa is all silver spoon, upper-crusty frippery, a classic wealthy dowager type, and Helsa is as severe and meticulous as one could hope from a traditional German servant.
The director hoping to convince Mrs. Grossenknueten to invest in the new musical is one Mr. Ken de la Maize (Steven Rausch), a name-dropping artiste who adores describing theater using such florid language as “life distilled to the pure, clear ring of truth.” The creative team behind the musical is Hopewell and Roth. Roger Hopewell (Evan Marquez) is a preening, bitchy homosexual who can barely tolerate his partner, Bernice Roth (Micah Abram), a seven-martini-lunch lush who will dramatically drop everything in order to work on a new lyric that’s just popped into her head.
Nikki Crandall (Cicely Galm) is a young and eager chorus girl looking for her big break in The Business. Her fetching smile and spunky charm immediately catch the eye of struggling comedian Eddie McCuen (Chris Martinez), the kind of showbiz type who will take any audition he can get, even if it requires talents he isn’t certain he has. Add in an Irish tenor with a lilting, old country brogue, Patrick O’Reilly (Peter Johnson), and a snooty producer, Marjorie Baverstock (Hope Weiss), who insists on describing most everything as “divine” but pronounces the word “di-voon” for the sake of pointless affectation, and you have just about every theater caricature under the sun (or, in this case, the moon).
As soon as The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 starts, the bodies begin to pile up. While the theater people prepare to perform for Mrs. Grossenknueten, undercover cop Michael Kelly (Marcus Turner) strives to unmask the murderer hiding among them.
Stabbings and secret passageways play big parts in the proceedings, and more than one character turns out to not be exactly who or what they appear.
Though absent from the stage for long stretches, Peter Johnson had me slapping my knee more than once. Cicely Galm and Chris Martinez also deserve to be singled out for their remarkably natural and confident performances. The real stars of the show, however, are the set and costume design, both of which are the most responsible for transporting the audience to 1940 New York. The sets were designed by Ricky Lee Landrum (also the director), Deborah G. Zarich and Mike Zarich, and Judy Ernst designed the costumes.
For a few laughs and a dash of mystery, all while supporting a local theater company, you won’t do any better than The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.
On the Bill
The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 plays through May 21 at the Longmont Performing Arts Center at 513 Main St. Tickets are $15-$17. For tickets or information, call 303-772-5200, or visit www.longmonttheatre.org.