Lakewood stages old-school hoot

// 'The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940' brings vaudeville mystery to the stage

The golden age of cinema mixes with a dab of the inner workings of the faux staging of a Broadway show and a dash of Agatha Christie murder mystery with a pinch of Groucho Marx for Lakewood Playhouse’s latest dish of theatrical goodness.

“The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940,” by John Bishop and directed by James Venturini, has all the makings of a full meal of entertainment. The story centers on the comings and goings of the weekend guests at a New England mansion that happens to be snowed in just in time for the guests to arrive and the mystery to commence. The folks have gathered to pitch a new musical to a benefactor. The mystery comes into play as the Stage Door Slasher strikes and the guests begin the finger pointing on who is using the mansion’s sliding panels to do their dirty work and slip away without detection. Toss in the looming war in Europe, a spy story and a batch of back-story drama.

What makes this production work so well is the parade of quirky but subdued comedy. This character-driven show has all the classic characters from the 1940s spy mystery movies. There is the all-too German maid, the not-so-fun comedy and the uber-name-dropping director. Up and down the playbill, the actors own their roles like a pair of Christmas slippers.

Standouts among them are: Melissa Thayer as the German maid, Blake R. York as the Irish tenor of the bunch and Jeffery Weaver as the gayer-than-Liberace song meister. Their performances were just simple, good fun.

But also a standout in this show is the set by artistic director turned set designer John Munn. While the show contains an otherwise simple set of a mansion sitting room, the hidden wall was a great touch. And in case anyone in the audience ever wonders, the books are real. One dude in the back row found that out on April 28 when the books became an avalanche of literary works when the set wiggled. But the show kept going and the actors never skipped a line. Gotta love live theater.

This production contains some mildly adult situations surrounding ladies undergarments but nothing too scandalous. Because the show is a murder mystery, the character development and connections might get a bit confusing for younger viewers but they might likely still enjoy the over-the-top moments enough to gloss over the nuances of who knows whom from where. But those details really do not matter anyway.

“The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940” runs at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays through May 20 at the Lakewood Playhouse, located by the Pierce Transit Center in the Lakewood Towne Center.

Tickets are available by calling (253) 588-0042 or at www.LakewoodPlayhouse.org.

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