Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Sterling Playmakers The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940

By • Apr 20th, 2009 • Category: Reviews
The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940
Sterling Playmakers
Sterling Middle School, Sterling, VA
Playing through April 26th
Reviewed April 17th, 2009

The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 is a comedy styled after (or rather, spoofing) the murder mystery movies of the forties, with more than its share of plot twists, intrigue and character cliques. The play takes place in the upstate mansion of an eccentric heiress who agrees to work with the New York police to solve a series of murders. She invites a number of guests to her home on the pretense of holding a backer’s audition for a new musical. It is soon revealed that the creative team for this new project had been involved in Manhattan Musical, a production that closed when three of its showgirls were mysteriously and brutally murdered. From the first scene and throughout the play, inhabitants and guests of the mansion are picked off, often by a mysterious masked individual, and the survivors are left to frantically solve the murders before they become the next victims.

The Sterling Playmakers did an excellent job of transporting the audience to the 1940s and providing a number of laughs in its rendition of Musical Comedy Murders, although the show could benefit from slightly faster pacing, especially in the first act.

Even before discussion of the onstage action, praise must be given to the set, props, costume and sound designers and crew. Often the unsung heroes of a stage production (and often only acknowledged when something goes wrong) the technical crew of Musical Comedy Murders did a fantastic job of creating a forties ambience. The intricate box set depicts the library of an opulent but mysterious mansion, fashionably decorated (set designer Glen Bartram and his crew must be geniuses at scouting flee markets) and filled with secret passages. The costumes, properties, even the slightly tinny radio music was very authentic to the period.

The action on stage, especially the exposition of the first act, dragged just a bit and a few lines were noticeably flubbed. However, as additional, colorful characters arrive on-scene, the plot develops and the audience becomes more intrigued by the action. Stand-out performances include Barbara D. Carpenter as the alcoholic and easily petrified lyricist, Bernice. Carpenter had the best comedic timing of the cast, delivering her lines with just a dash of sincerity, which is all one needs when embodying a cliqued role. Sophia Malakooti, as the overly complimentary, overly excited and just plain overly-over-the-top producer Marjorie, brings most of the comic relief in the first act, borrowing shamelessly, and successfully, from the frighteningly intense Norma Desmond (of Sunset Boulevard).

Marie Ann Garcia, as Nikki, has a lovely, bell-like voice. She credibly acts the role of an “innocent” ingénue with a secret and looks the part from head-to-toe. Glen Bartram, as Patrick O’Reilly, the Irish tenor (turned Italian police officer, turned German Gestapo agent), and Susan Kronenberg, as Helsa, the German maid who is “offed” in the first scene only to reappear with totally different personality, successfully portray the sinister villains of the show, and, it is worth noting, speak with rather convincing accents.

The other actors all committed well to their roles, although they could have played up even more the unique eccentricities of their respective characters. And almost all of the performers could have been more on top of their delivery at some point throughout the play.

On balance, Musical Comedy Murders is a show worth seeing, to admire the beautiful set, props and costumes and to have a laugh at the designedly ridiculous plot and characters.

Director’s Notes

Directing a show is no small task; however, directing a comedy, such as this one can be a huge , hysterically fun experience and well worth the laugh throughout the process. I am honored to be able to have been involved with this one. To have been able to work with such a creative crew; did you see the set? WOW! And actors full of zany entertaining charcters for all to enjoy-VIVOON! As a fan of the old comedy movies of long ago, likes Abbott & Costello and Marx Brothers (yes, I own their box sets), I am reminded how simple gags and goofy accents can allow you to escape from any of today’s woes- if only for two hours. I hope you are able to escape with us as we take you back to days gone by when musicals were popular, clothes had flair, mysterious houses had hidden doors, so no one knew who the real murderer was, and the hero got the girl!



  • Helsa Wenzel: Susan Kronenberg
  • Elsa Von Grossenknueten: Kathleen Donovan
  • Michael Kelly: Herb Fuller
  • Patrick O’Reilly: Glen Bartram
  • Ken De La Maize: David Grimm
  • Nikki Crandall: Marie Ann Garcia
  • Eddie McCuen: Grant Hildebrandt
  • Marjorie Baverstock: Sophia Malakooti
  • Roger Hopewell: Joe Bates
  • Bernice Roth: Barbara Carpenter


  • Producer: Deb Bartram
  • Director: Liz Smith and J. Glenn Sartori
  • Assistant Director: Jim Johnson
  • Production Stage Manager: April Bridgeman
  • Stage Manager: Andi Johnson
  • Technical Director: Glen Bartram
  • Set Design and Master Carpenter: Glen Bartram
  • Light Design and Manager: Bill Fry
  • Sound Design and Manager: Doug Pascale
  • Composer: Joe Campanella
  • Pianist: Margaret Waagner
  • Dialect Coach: Rahel Ratze
  • Costume Design: Susan Devine and Donna Naybor
  • Makeup Design: Tosia Shall
  • Running Crew: Andi Johnson, Helen Gernhardt
  • Publicity Manager: Liz Smith
  • Graphics: Tim Silk and Liz Smith
  • Lobby Display: Diana Knollman
  • Advertising: Angela Hepola
  • Properties Mistress: Diana knollman and Lisa Alford
  • Set Dresser: Michael Smith
  • House Manager: Barbara Gillen
  • Box Office Manager: Emille pugh
  • Online Box Office Manager: Emille Pugh
  • Box Office Staff: Roseann Vecchio, Tom Vecchio, Doris Argall
  • Makeup Crew: Danica Shook
  • Set Construction: Lisa Alford, Deb Bartram, Glen Bartram, Joe Bates, Theresa Bender, April Bridgeman, John Coscia, Joe Campanella, Barbara Carpenter, Bill Fry, Herb Fuller, Marie Ann Garcia, Helen Gernhardt, Chip Gertzog, David Grimm, Kelsey Hancher, Andi Johnson, Jim Johnson, Susan Kronenberg, Wendy Kronenberg, Sophia Malakooti, Doug Pascale, Scott Ruegg, Liz Smith, Steve Smith
  • Bulk Mail: Kathy Bleutge, Joe Campanella, Anna Dulin, Corinne Fox, Justin Fox, kim Fry, Barb Gillen, Emille Pugh, Liz Smith, Steve Smith
  • Ushers: Georgia Bell, Kathy Bleutge, John Bleutge, Lora Buckman, Katie Buckman, Peggy Darr, Lee Duney, Joe Campenella, Louise Gillen, Angela Hepola, mark Humphrey, Annabelle Johnson
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is an attorney by day and true theater amateur by night, having participated in a variety of roles both on and off the stage (mostly for free). Favorite credits include Anne in A Little Night Music (Quadramics), Mrs. Walker in Tommy (Pennsylvania Players) and Mona Stanley in Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (Quadramics). Amanda was seen most recently as Irene in Crazy for You, presented by the Pickwick Players.

One Response »

  1. Thanks for the great review. Glad you liked the show, and THRILLED that you liked the set!

    Gotta give major kudos to my crew for their hard work, and a special shout out to Mike Smith, and Diana Knollman. It’s their hard work on props and set dressing that helped make everything look so good!