THE MUSICAL COMEDY MURDERS OF 1940
Interplay’s The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 isn’t a musical and it’s barely a murder mystery. But it’s an amusing little romp that pokes fun at the theater and film worlds, and it features a pair of pretty good performances.
John Bishop’s script satirizes a few archetypes from stage and screen, especially the sweet ingenue and naive hero of the musicals. It’s a farce, so there are plenty of outlandish situations, confused identities, and smart lines. There’s even a little romance.
The mystery around which most of the action revolves will be solved by most theatergoers within the first 15 minutes, if not sooner, but the play has enough energy and bite to entertain for its full hour. The night I attended the first act was a little slow, but the players recouped their pacing for the second half.
Sally Jo Bannow is particularly funny as the three interchangeable German siblings. Her version of a drag queen doing Dietrich–who has been done so many times in so many campy ways–is inspired. Paul E. Mullins also shines in his role of Roger, the effete composer. He could easily have passed with just a series of stereotypical gestures, but Mullins keeps Roger true to form without once descending into ridicule.
Bishop’s story involves a series of murders in New York by a killer dubbed “The Stage Door Slasher,” a madman who prefers his victims female, nubile, and wearing ballet tutus. Detective Kelly, played by George Badecker, figures he’ll get all the likely suspects in the same room and prompt the murderer to give him- or herself away. For this he engages the help of Elsa Von Grossenkneuten (yes, the name drew laughs every time), played by Marney MacAdams, who lures the suspects to her estate with the promise of potential backing for a new Broadway show.
Producers, writers, singers, and comics gather at Frau Von Grossenkneuten’s, where a blizzard traps them all for the weekend. Somewhere along the line two, maybe three, Nazi agents enter the picture, scrambling the issues of who’s who and who’s killing whom. The corpses pile up, attracting the attention of not just the NYPD, but the German consulate and Navy intelligence.
There are no surprises here–it’s standard fare in a lot of ways; but it has the same familiar delight that late-night movies from the 1940s have. Squint and you might even be able to imagine it in black and white.