A classic whodunit

Here’s a tip: never say “Someone is in great danger and I know who” lest it result in being kidnapped via a secret passage behind a bookcase. With eccentric characters, a convenient snowstorm, and a murder 20 seconds into show time, it’s clear everyone’s going to die … from laughter.

STAGE Student Theatre recently put on “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940,” written by John Bishop and directed by Jared Chastain. The show is a classic whodunit murder mystery with a dash of lyrical music and a healthy dose of laughter.

This is evident from watching the first killing, followed by the masked murderer comically dragging their victim around looking for a place to stash the body.

“It’s a laugh riot from start to finish,” said sophomore psychology major Kevin Herriman, who plays the terrible comic Eddie McCuen. “Our characters take it seriously but we don’t.”

The show is set up with all the most convenient of circumstances: a snowstorm that blocks the roads and knocks out the phones, a power outage or two, secret passageways behind doors, and the tale of the Stage Door Slasher.

Each of the characters, most of whom are actors auditioning for a show within the play, seem to have a motive, keeping the audience guessing until the truth is revealed. Or is it?

“To be honest, it’s just fun,” said sophomore communications major Emma Gleghorn, who plays perpetually-drunk Bernice Roth. “There’s lots of secrets.”

The musical part of the show comes through by an onstage piano, with the premise being that these are songs the actors will sing in the show they are auditioning for. Everything doesn’t necessarily go as planned when one of the singing scenes ends with a power outage and another murder victim.

Characters vary from their personalities to their accents. Herriman described his character Eddie as someone who takes his work seriously, but not the events of the play. Gleghorn’s character Bernice tends to not pay attention to what’s going on around her unless it benefits herself. She also spends a good portion of the show looking for the next drink.

Spencer Knudson, a freshman hoping to major in French and biology, plays eccentric director Ken De La Maize. He said the different personalities make the show a fun little adventure, very funny even with the whole death part.

“The characters manage to keep you from dwelling on the darker side,” Knudson said.

The actors had to do a lot of compact work, given they received their scripts just before winter break. Lines needed to be learned over the holidays and the rehearsal process was squeezed into a tight amount of space, Herriman said.

“I know that our director was super enthusiastic for it,” he said. “If Jared’s really excited about the project, it’s going to be good.”

Eddie may claim to be a comedian, but he’s really just a goofball whose jokes cause eye rolls and exasperated laughter. Herriman said Eddie is a bit more out there than he is, but he remains confident that the lines he says are funny enough to get a reaction.

Gleghorn said becoming Bernice Roth was really hard. Bernice’s personality involves getting more emotional and acting very high-strung, something different but interesting to play, Gleghorn said.

“I’ve never gotten drunk before, (and) I’m playing someone who gets drunk out of her mind,” she said.

Knudson described the experience of working on the show as enjoyable and constructive. With a small cast of just 10 people, one needs to be good with collaboration and staying focused. Participating in shows is something he recommends to people who want to have fun and express themselves.

“Once you catch the bug, you won’t be able to stop,” Knudson said.

“The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940” will have two more showings Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Wadleigh Theatre. Tickets are $5 with student ID and $10 without.