Certain lines telegraph exactly what sort of play one is seeing, and “Don’t look in the closet!”-a request frequently heard in The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940-is one of them. From the opening of the first secret passageway to the last unmasking of an assumed identity, John Bishop’s script calls forth every cliche not only of the standard country house murder mystery, but also of farces that satirize said country house murder mysteries. Twice removed from the laws of humans, nature, and theatrical representation, Bishop’s loose approach to logic serves The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 well-better, in fact, than would anything as mundane as a plausible story.
At first it looks as though slick director Ken De la Maize (Jim Sirianni) will monopolize the wisecracks, but soon the liquor and the barbed remarks are flowing, and the composer, Roger Hopewell (Rodney Baker), comes to the fore with his stinging comebacks. The ostensible comedian, Eddie McCuen (Robert Langarica), is not written to actually be funny, but somehow Langarica navigates this crucial role in such a way as to move Eddie into our hearts without the benefit of punch lines or zingers. As the producer, Marjorie Baverstock, Susie Couch has a ball. One moment Baverstock is yodeling her crazy personal slogan-“divoon!”-and the next she’s locked in a plot-central physical pause that lasts a full minute.
Brian Harwell dishes up an impressive Irish stew of accents as tenor Patrick O’Reilly and subsequent identities. As the long-suffering yet still possibly homicidal maid, Helsa Wenzel, Jenna Scanlon gets some of the evening’s biggest laughs with her splendid physical comedy and timing. Jean Hall brings a touch of innocence and then steely nerve to the multiple identities of Nikki Crandall. In a show full of people constantly revealing “who they are really,” Hall made Crandall’s announcement the most memorable.
None of this zaniness would be possible without terrific work by Paul Taylor as Sergeant Michael Kelly and Kathy Marden as Elsa von Grossenknueten. These characters hold together the twisted plot, and render all the unlikely things that happen into parts of an ongoing investigation. Finally, Leslie Ann Story, as Bernice the lyricist, is like a Greek chorus of Dionysus, full of emotion and spirits. Needless to say, she looks in the closet.