January 30, 2009

Molly Brown and the Mysterious Murder...

If you happen to be in Denver, Colorado between now and February 15 you might want to stop in and say hello to murder suspect, Soapy Smith.

I came across this story at Denverpost.com

"Molly Brown and the Mysterious Murder" alive with jokes
Who cares if it's not real theater? Adams Mystery Playhouse packs in crowds
By John Moore
Denver Post Theater Critic

One thing you just gotta love to hear when you walk into a theater: "The bar's open all night long!" That this bar also happens to be a casket is just a bonus.

The disarmingly friendly Adams Mystery Playhouse will never be confused with real theater — and the blue-collar audiences who consistently pack the former mortuary on Federal Boulevard probably wouldn't be packing it if it were.

The murder-mystery amusement offered here is more reminiscent of the rollicking audience-participation high jinks of the Heritage Square Music Hall, combined with the Avenue Theater's venerable crowd-pleasing whodunit, "Murder Most Fowl."

Fraternization is encouraged from the moment you park. You walk in and are sent off on a scavenger hunt, where you wander throughout the historic home mingling with shady Old West characters. A palm reader will tell your fortune for $1 a minute.

We're told this home was built by William Simpson as an escape from all the debauchery of downtown Denver. Guess it's found its way west.

Eventually you move into the playhouse, where you are served a dinner buffet seated at any of a dozen round tables of 10 each. Before you can bite into your biscuit, the silliness begins from the saloon-style stage, such as conga lines, cheap prize giveaways and "Ring of Fire" sing-alongs. Such giddiness pervades that it starts to feel like a drunken wedding reception (though this is all family-friendly and appropriate for all ages).

Audiences are told to participate as much or as little as they want, but c'mon. This is not theater for the timid. This is for birthdays, anniversaries, office parties and anyone who just wants a communal giggle. Many in the audience are just as gaudily dressed as the actors. And many are just as funny.

Oh, yeah, the play. The current offering is "Molly Brown and the Mysterious Murder," though there's not all that much Molly in this murder. No matter. Other titles in the rotating series include "Murder at an Irish Wake" and "Who Wants to Murder a Millionaire?"

Here, the setting is a traveling Wild West vaudeville. Before dinner ends, a Wild Bill Hickok knockoff named Buckhorn Bob emerges with an arrow through his head, and you're off reviewing clues, hearing alibis and playing fun interactive improv games (or, as they call it, "theatrical pantomimickry"), all leading up to an audience vote. Your suspects include the legendary Soapy Smith (Nick Guida) and Mrs. Brown herself (Marne Wills- Cuellar).

Each table gets a chance to deliberate and announce their murderer. By then, the level of creativity and investment some patrons have in all of this is striking.

There's enough shtick to shake a stick at, but these comedians are the real deal. Most impressive is Darrin Ray as lovable hayseed Geezer Gates. He won a 2002 Denver Post Ovation Award playing a sneering, creepy menace in "Paddywack," but he's clearly come full- circle here as a malapropping dimwit. One suggestion: This is the Old West, but there's one staff civilian (in a tie!) who, unless he's going to don his own character, probably shouldn't interject himself so much into things.

The Adams Mystery Playhouse has been in operation for about two years, but the empress (Wills- Cuellar) and her company have been staging similar "Death for Dinner" performances since 1990.

It'd be easy to dismiss the theatrical credibility of their shenanigans. But comedy is hard, and this audience laughed — hard. And the place is regularly packed to a capacity of 130, and not many "real" theaters can claim that.

Just remember: "Parking is free — unless you get towed."

Can I get a rim shot?

John Moore: 303-954-1056 or jmoore@denverpost.com

"Molly Brown and the Mysterious Murder"

Murder and a meal. Adams Mystery Playhouse, 2406 Federal Blvd. Directed by Doug Proctor. Starring Marne Wills-Cuellar and rotating ensemble. Through Feb. 15. 3 hours, 15 minutes, including pre-show and dinner. 6 p.m. doors and dinner Fridays-Saturdays, plus noon Feb. 14-15. $39. 303-455-1848 or adamsmysteryplayhouse.com

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