An oddity, “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940,” is neither a full-fledged musical nor a riotous comedy, though there are brief tuneful segments and a mix of laugher, amid a series of murders.

The whodunnit, playing at the Diamond Head Theatre, is actually quite charming. Actors eager to audition for a show (a musical, natch), along with a dancer, a singer and a comedian, who are seeking employment, so they assemble at the mansion of Elsa Von Grossenknueten (Lisa Konove, flamboyantly brilliant and in her prime) in Chappaqua, New York. The time is midnight (of course), at the height of a chilling snowfall (another of course). The theatrical figures hope wealthy Elsa will bankroll the musical, or so is the premise.

In actually, the estate is where three dancers were previously murdered by an unknown slasher, and a policeman, Michael Kelly (Michael Abdo, sleek in his sleuthing) is among the invitees and believes the slasher also is among the party guests. So everyone is a suspect;  or dead serious. a forthcoming victim.

The play, by John Bishop, is set in December, 1940, and opens with the murder of Elsa’s maid Helsa Wenzel (Brianna Johnston, fittingly domestic, who comes to life again, which viewers later learn how).  The slasher claims several more victims, terrifying the survivors, who are stuck in the snowstorm and the expected happens: the lights go out,  meaning more murders when they go on again.

The motley crew includes the singer, Patrick O’Reilly (Christopher Denton); the dancer, Nikki Crandall (Emily Lane); the comic Eddie McCuen (David Samsel),  a director Ken De La Maize( Lee Nebe); and a writing team comprising Roger Hopewell (Andrew Simmons) and Bernice Roth (Betty Bolton). They’re all wary of the lurking mayhem, beginning with the demise of Elsa’s friend, Marjorie Baverstock (Heather Taylor).

“Musical Comedy” cast: seated front, Lisa Konove, Michael Abdo and Heather Taylor; rear, from left, David Samsel, Emily Lane, Brianna Johnston, Christoper Denton, Andrew Simmons, Betty Bolton and Lee Nebe. — Brandon Miyagi photo, courtesy DHT.

An ensemble show, the cast builds chemistry with shared fear and mutual concerns about who is the killer. Frequent hilarity lessens the intensity of emotions in this kind of murder mysteries, and director John Rampage maintains a cadence of fright and laughs. Actress Konove, a veteran of many dramatic and comedic shows in the past, is in her element in this one, clad in flowing, elegant and colorful gowns created with authority by Emily Lane (doubling as a cast member), with Aiko Schick’s hair and makeup designs contributing to the era of the ‘40s.

A star is born, in set designer Randy Tandal’s auspicious debut as a stage designer, whose maginificent single-set spectacle is efficient and functional, with book shelves that spin to hide, then display, a hidden passageway. The one-view spectrum includes handsome doorways for entrances and exits, plus a clothes closet which conceals a body and also displays wardrobe. There are eye-filling gems including artwork on the walls and working lamps, working in sync with prop designer Travis O. Asaeli’s contributions – a desk, a comfy armchair, and a faux grand piano.

At long last, DHT has come of age, marking the first anniversary of the new theater with a set (finally) that demonstrates and reflects the magic of stagecraft. Clearly, greatness sprouts with time and talent. This set — and its creator — are winners! No set pieces to roll on and off stage; nothing to descend from the overhead fly space. What you see is what you get–excellence.


“The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940”

A play by John Bishop, about theatrical types gathering at a mansion, where murder is on the menu and a snowstorm prevents an escape

Where: Diamond Head Theatre

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; also at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 18; extension playdates, 7:30 p.m. Feb.23 and 3 p.m. Feb. 24

Tickets: $37 to $62, at or (808) 733-0274

And that’s Show Biz…

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