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‘The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940’, a Lighthearted and Fun Murder Mystery Comedy at the Theatre Factory 

by JADE GOODES

The Theatre Factory’s latest production takes audiences into a murder-mystery whodunit in The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940. Directed by Ron Ferrara, this play is a zane-y, absurdist comedy that is just as funny as it is entertaining. 

Pamela Farneth, Justin Mohr, Jeremy McCawley, Madison Bosler, and Brandon Farneth in The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 
Photo by: The Theatre Factory

The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 takes place in a large and unusual mansion in December of 1940. Elsa Von Grossenknueten, the mansion’s owner, calls together a group of theatrical people for a backer’s audition for the musical “White House Merry-Go-Round.” The guests soon realize they have been brought together to figure out the identity of the infamous Stage Door Slasher, who murdered three women after performances of a former musical comedy. As the guests begin to put the pieces of the murders together, they realize the crime runs far deeper than what they initially suspected. 

I appreciate how Set Designers Ron Ferrara and Clark Stewart transformed the space at The Theatre Factory, and how versatile and functional the set was. The play is set in the mansion’s library, so while there is not much in the way of scene changes, there are a few surprises to the set which help to add intrigue to the story itself. It is a beautifully designed set, from the sheik furniture to the Haunted Mansion style portraits. I loved how the space served the story well and held a few elements of surprise for the audience. 

Pamela Farneth, Noah Kendall, Madison Bosler, Brandon Farneth, and Melissa Johnson Guenther in The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940
Photo by: The Theatre Factory

This production consists of a strong ensemble with great chemistry and energy, which makes the play’s material both digestible and enjoyable. Pamela Farneth plays Elsa Von Grossenknueten and brings the energy of an old-money, eccentric, batty but lovable heiress to the character. Michael ByrneBriana DownsBrandon Farneth, and Melissa Johnson Guenther are a fantastic group cast as the musical’s director, composer/lyricist, and producer. You can believe there’s actual history between them, which makes their bickering, quips, and jabs at one another all the more fun. Madison Bosler and Jeremy McCawley are charming and endearing as Eddie McCuen and Nikki Crandall. There’s great chemistry between the two, and they are great at providing both comedic and sincere moments. Credit must be given to Justin Mohr and Grant Jones, who play Michael Kelly and Patrick O’Reilly, respectively. They both had to pull off difficult accents that would trip anyone up, but the accents solidified their characters and elevated the show’s humor.

Last but not least, Noah Kendall leads the cast as Helsa Wenzel. They make fantastic choices throughout the show. I appreciate the humor and the physicality they brought to the character, which helped make their performance such a highlight in this production. 

The Theatre Factory has an entertaining show with a talented cast to boot. That being said, the book leaves a little to be desired. There are truly fun moments that remind me of Clue, and that has a lot to do with the ensemble nature of the show. Sometimes, it’s too absurd and becomes confusing and hard to follow. This might be the intention, as it’s a nod and a parody of murder-mystery movies of the ’40s. Even so, it reaches a point where the gags and bits go too far. While I have my issues with the book, this does not take away from The Theatre Factory’s production. I appreciate that this production never felt too silly or overdone. Everything was played with a genuine balance of humor and realism while winking to the audience about the absurdity of the material itself.

Jeremy McCawley, Brandon Farneth, and Melissa Johnson Guenther in The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940
Photo by: The Theatre Factory

The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 is an amusing play that allows its audience to get lost in an absurd farce of murder, mystery, and intrigue. The cast is stellar and goes above and beyond to help create this story and showcase the fun and enjoyment they are having in the process. This production is a great night of theater, and I would highly recommend checking it out if you’re in the mood for a lighthearted and fun murder mystery comedy. 

TICKETS AND DETAILS 

The Theatre Factory’s production of The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 plays through June 15, 2024. Tickets can be purchased at