The Column Online



by John Bishop

Greater Cleburne Carnegie Players

Produced by Judy Barnett
Directed by Dick Helmcamp
Stage Managed by Devin Moralez
Technical Direction by Alan Meadows
Costume Design by Kara Barnes
Set Design by Hillard Cochran
Scenic Artistry by Julie Lee
Properties Design by Laura Gutzman & Sherry Clark
Stunt Choreography by Aaron Lett
Stage & Technical Operations by Jesse Ashcraft, Hazel Bell &
Renee Norton


Helsa Wenzel - Barbara Richardson
Elsa Von Grossenknueten - Barbara Rose
Michael Kelly - Dick Helmcamp
Patrick O'Reilly - Barry Swindall
Ken Da La Maize - Hillard Cochran
Nikki Crandall - Aaron Dawn Schultz
Eddie McCuen - Trevor Jones
Marjorie Baverstock - Shauna Lewis
Roger Hopewell - Jay Lewis
Bernice Roth - Tonya Laree

Reviewed Performance: 3/9/2012

Reviewed by Richard Blake, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 is a comedy by John Bishop. The play was first performed at the Circle Repertory Company in their theatre at 99 Seventh Avenue South in New York City, later moving to Broadway, opening on April 6, 1987, in The Longacre Theatre. Both productions were directed by the playwright and shared the same cast. The play is said to have been based on several 1940s mystery movies, including The Cat and the Canary, one of Bob Hope's first films.

The play takes place in a mansion in Chappaqua, New York in December 1940, specifically, the library. The mansion is owned and inhabited by Elsa Von Grossenknueten and her maid Helsa Wenzel. The first of the invited guests is an Irish tenor named Patrick O'Reilly. He's quickly followed by a theatre director named Ken De La Maize and a singer/dancer named Nikki Crandall. Nikki is followed in by a young (and bad) comedian named Eddie McCuen who takes an instant liking to Nikki.

While talking, Eddie realizes that everyone coming, including Marjorie Baverstock, the producer, and Roger Hopewell and Bernice Roth, the writers, were all part of the creative team that made "Manhattan Holiday" in which The Stage Door Slasher murdered three women. Eddie instantly wants to leave but decides otherwise after the rest of the team woos him into staying. After things get underway, Marjorie is murdered and the body of Helsa is discovered.

After a series of dizzy conversations, multiple trips through secret doorways leading to a labyrinth of hidden passageways, multiple crimes and criminals are revealed. Eventually after much murderous mayhem the Stage Door Slasher is revealed through deciphering Bebe's coded notebook.

It seems my weekend of reviewing was all about "who-dunnit" and I was pleasantly surprised with this production by Carnegie Players. Offering up a nice evening of entertainment with Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, murder mystery lovers will definitely enjoy the production and be thoroughly entertained.

Directed by Dick Helmcamp, this production has more turns in the story than the hidden passages in the mansion the play is set in. Mr. Helmcamp has a very nice performance space to work in and takes every opportunity to use it to his advantage. The stage is a very large proscenium but Mr. Helmcamp's blocking keeps it feeling intimate and draws the audience into the story quite well.

He creates very nice stage pictures and places cast interaction everywhere he can on the set. Scenes flow smoothly in most places and the pace of the show goes well. Mr. Helmcamp also plays the undercover officer, Michael Kelly in the production. He handles his character well, is great fun to watch and delivers his dialogue crisply. As Director and performer, Mr. Helmcamp succeeds in this production in both aspects.

Set design by Hillard Cochran and scenic artistry by Julie Lee makes a great pair leading to a stunning set. The inside of the mansion has wonderful details, some of which I can't "reveal", in it's fully decorated library with everything from a grand chandelier, a great writers desk and fully stocked bar to a grand piano that actually gets used in the production. However, I do wish the piano dolly had been removed or covered as it does detract from the rest of the wonderfully appointed set.

A lighting designer is not credited in the program however, but it is done well. Lighting a set that experiences a scripted power outage is not easily done yet that task is achieved in this play. Soft ambers, rich blues and lighting cast from the fireplace fill out the wonderful look of the stage.

Costume design by Kara Barnes is done very well. Each character is adorned in a way that reflects his/her personality and nothing is out of place or reads inappropriately. Some of the costumes are very elaborate and stunning on stage and some are simple. In either case, all accent the production in a positive way.

The Stunt choreography by Aaron Lett deserves mention. This show has a lot of physical elements including fights with weapons of all kinds, and all are done very well. Mr. Lett has trained this cast well and it definitely shows on stage.

This ensemble cast works very well together on stage and the production quality shows. There is a lot of interaction yet no-one is ever upstaged. The program biographies show a wide range of stage experience in the cast yet you don't notice these different levels of experience on the stage. Some of the performances, however, do stand out.

Barbara Rose as Elsa Von Grossenknueten has a wonderful role to play in this show and she represents it well. Ms. Rose has wonderful stage presence, good line delivery and wonderful facial reactions. There is a lot going on with her character and Ms. Rose doesn't falter anywhere in the production.

Helsa Wenzel, played by Barbara Richardson, is just exciting to watch perform. Ms. Richardson has many "hats" to wear as her character and succeeds with every one of them. Her moments on stage are hilarious and it's hard to take your eyes off of her. (Hint, hint, hint)

Jay Lewis as Roger Hopewell offers a side-splitting rendering of his character. >From facial expressions and movements to rolling eyes and drinking fabulously, you are thoroughly entertained by Mr. Lewis every time he is on stage.

Greater Cleburne Carnegie Players production of Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 is a great evening of live entertainment for everyone, especially those who love a great murder mystery.

Greater Cleburne Carnegie Players
Cleburne Conference & Performing Arts Center
1501 W Henderson St, Cleburne, TX 76033

Playing through March 18th
Friday & Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday, March 18th at 2:30pm
Tickets are $8.00-$12.00

For more info or purchase tickets online: or call the box office at 817-645-9255