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JCHS Players performance of ‘The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940’ a success

By Lacy Hilliard
Tomahawk Writer/Photographer

The JCHS Players have done it again! Under the direction of Lisa Zeggert and the co-direction of JCHS student Hannah Wheeler, the young thespians pulled off the dialogue heavy John Bishop classic “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940” with the maturity and artistry that the community has come to expect from the talented ‘Players.’ After just 10-weeks of preparations, the production took the stage at Heritage Hall from March 15, through March 17, with a double performance on Saturday.
Based in the luxurious but creepy Chappaqua home of the dazzling Elsa Von Grossenknueten (Hannah Arnett), an eccentric cast of characters gathers to pitch the next big musical when before they know it, the scene is set for their untimely demise; an ironic twist of fate considering some of the characters questionable history. With the theater scene on full alert after unfortunate incidents that occurred during the tour of the musical “Manhattan Holiday,” it is comic Eddie McCuen (Jacob McGlamery) that is first to realize that the creative team he would soon be working with had already experienced the handiwork of the ‘Stage Door Slasher’ first hand. Much to Eddie’s dismay, the ill-fated team arrived shortly thereafter and with a powerful blizzard swirling outside, there was no escape…unless of course you count the dozens of secret passageways that transform the Von Grossenknueten mansion into a hidden labyrinth. It isn’t long before what should have been an evening of creative vision turns into a mysterious, laugh-out-loud, lethal, disaster of uproarious proportions.
Hannah Arnett played the role of the exquisite Elsa Von Grossenknueten. Arnett pulled off an eye-catching rendition of Von Grossenknueten; the peculiar hostess and notorious play-backer that always maintains composure- until she doesn’t. Hannah easily entranced the audience with the ease of her transitions from a proper hostess to a woman desperately in need of anger management. Arnett’s performance set the tone for an evening of grandeur and exceptional acting.
Kristen Branch took on the dynamic role of Helsa Wenzel. Unfortunately, for Helsa, she’s murdered by a masked man in the opening scene. Fortunately for Branch and audiences, Helsa comes back in the form of her lunatic brother Dieter Wenzel as ‘he’ impersonates ‘his’ late sister. Portraying the metamorphosis of a helpless young German housemaid turned comedic homicidal maniac pretending to be a young German housemaid was certainly a tall order. Branch portrayed the role flawlessly; her wide-eyed glare commanded intrigue while her performance surprised you with the occasional unexpected and well-timed one-liner.
When Irishman Patrick O’Reilly (Ryan Whitener) arrives on the scene, he brings with him the jolly cheerfulness of the Irish spirit. Ryan Whitener was all smiles as he interpreted his role, sailing through with an impressive Irish brogue. There’s just one problem with the jolly Irishman, he’s actually Tony Garibaldi, an Italian New York City cop. Garibaldi finally reveals his true identity as Klaus Stansdorff, a German gustapo agent. Whether German, Irish, or New Yorker; Whitener showed off his phenomenal talent for transitioning between each accent with perfection and precision.
Providing the comic relief for the evening was Jacob McGlamery as Eddie McCuen. The hilariously unfunny out-of-work comedian innocently pursues the young starlet-to-be, Nikki Crandall (Anna Snyder), while exclaiming “Hot dog!” as disaster occurred all around him. The clumsy but self-confident McCuen proves to be a hero and gets the girl in the end and McGlamery’s performance left the audience with a smile and a laugh as he navigated the bowtie clad comedian.
Evan Lewis entered the fray as Ken De La Maize; the stereotypical Hollywood director with a sharp tongue and a quick wit. Lewis brought to the role of De La Maize an appropriate air of heedlessness that commanded intrigue while delivering lines like “Of course I’ve seen the ocean! I was at a party in Santa Monica once and someone opened the curtains.” With a series of widely viewed unreleased productions, the infamous De La Maize would prove to be the killer amongst killers in the end; the Backstage Slasher himself.
Tayla Clark played the role of Marjorie Baverstock; the star-crossed production’s would-be producer. The absent-minded Baverstock spent most of her time taking drags off of her 1940’s style cigarette holder while remarking that everything around her was simply “divoon.” Clark carried out the role with impressive restraint; never leaving her spacey character or cracking a misplaced smile.
The role of Michael Kelly was portrayed by David Eller. Eller produced a perfect rendition of the tough undercover cop disguised as chauffeur to Von Grossenknueten. Eller’s portrayal of the assertive and hard-hitting undercover officer brought with it the voice of reason in the otherwise unreasonable cast.
The ditzy, often inebriated, and always captivating role of Bernice Roth was played by Ella Conder. Conder was a delight was the bubbly but erratic Bernice. As Bernice staggers across the stage, you never know what she might do or say next. There’s also the distinct possibility she might faint when the going gets tough; which it often does when there’s a murderer (or several) on the loose.
Brian Dempsey carried out the role of Roger Hopewell. Dempsey’s sarcastic tone personified the cynical Hopewell whose favorite pastime seemed to be cleverly attacking the character of Director Ken De La Maize. Dempsey as Hopewell displayed a quiet but calculated callousness as he spoke his mind without fear of consequence; a trait that never failed to ruffle the feathers of De La Maize.
The seemingly innocent role of Nikki Crandall was played by Anna Snyder. Snyder as Crandall did a superb job of never letting on her true identity while deflecting pick-up lines being hurled at her by comedian Eddie McCuen; all the while carrying out her true agenda—to find the Germans sent to harm the American war effort.

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