By Hannah Courtney, Contributing Writer
There are a lot of odd pairings in the world, but murder and comedy may be one of the strangest. The West Liberty University Hilltop Players plan to show audiences how the two go hand-in-hand in their rendition of John Bishop’s “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.”
According to Director and Associate Professor of Theatre Michael Aulick “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940” follows a group of theatre professionals (a director, a lyricist, a composer and a producer) who have worked together for years. Their last project was a flop, partly because someone (referred to as the Stage Door Slasher) started murdering all the chorus girls.
Two years later, the group has reunited to produce another play. While they’re at the home of a wealthy woman, who is called angel because she provides a big donation which allows the show to go on in the first place, people start dying. The group is snowed in, nobody can leave, and from here, the murder mystery begins, with moving bookcases, false identities, rumors of Nazi spies, as well as talk of the return of the Stage Door Slasher.
For audiences that like to have their funny bone tickled, Aulick ensures the show upholds it’s promise of comedy alongside the murder. “It really is one of the funnier, well-written plays of this style; certainly out of all the farcical comedies and especially if you want to narrow it to murder mystery comedies. It’s got all of the great, standard vaudevillian jokes in there. It’s pretty witty. There’s physical humor in it. So, it’s got all kinds of comedy in it,” Aulick said.
The aesthetics are sure not to disappoint the viewers either. “It is gonna be, I think, the prettiest and most involved set that’s happened in the past three years since I’ve been here. (Technical director and designer) Meta Lasch has made her own stained glass windows, she’s built these sliding bookcases, revolving bookcases, hinged bookcases. It’s ridiculous how much she’s able to do. She does an incredible job,” Aulick said.
This play will be the end for one student, and the beginning for another.
It marks the final production for West Liberty senior Karissa Martin. “After four years of doing theatre here, she takes her final bow. She leaves ‘em laughing is the way we pitched that idea. She ends with a laugh,” Aulick added .
However, it’ll be West Liberty Student Maura Reiff’s first Hilltop Player production. “I’m very thrilled and honored to be able to portray Marjorie Baverstock in ‘The Musical Comedy of Murder 1940.’ It’s a great atmosphere and my fellow cast mates along with our awesome crew plus Aulick have made my first show here superb in every way,” Reiff said.
One very noteworthy thing about this production is that it has been entered in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, which aims to improve college theater quality in the United States and help participants develop their theater skills and insights. A representative from KCACTF is set to watch the show and give feedback on April 20 and Aulick invites interested ears to come along and listen. “As far as I’m concerned, if [the representative] doesn’t mind, if they wanted to come on the 20 and hang out to hear what another professional says about it they’re welcome to come.”
Additionally, there was Coffee Before the Curtain on April 13 at 6:15 p.m.. This included a reception of coffee, dessert and cheese bars in the Nutting Gallery. Then, a pre-show discussion was held explaining what the play was about, why it was chosen, and opened the floor for questions.
The cast list for “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940” include: Kassidy Wells as Helsa Wenzel, Cassie Hackbart as Elsa Von Grossenkneuten, Jaymes Kelly as Patrick O’Reilly, Jaccob Trifonoff as Eric McCuen, Karissa Martin as Nikki Crandall, Clayton Dunn as Ken De La Maize, Jennifer Saling as Bernice Roth, Kevin Hensley as Roger Hopewell, Maura Reiff as Marjorie Baverstock and Nathan Dunn as Michael Kelly.
The show runs April 12, 13, 19, 20 and 21 at 7:30 p.m. and April 22 at 3 p.m. General admission is $10 and student tickets are $5.