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Director revives 1940s-oriented whodunit for Gresham History Museum series

If You Go

What: "The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940" by Sam Barlow High School Theatre Department

When: 6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, Feb. 13-15 and 20-22

Where: Gresham History Museum, 401 N. Main Ave.

Admission: $35, plus $2.75 fees

Information: visit sambarlowtheatre.com

COURTESY PHOTO: SAM BARLOW HIGH SCHOOL - Sam Barlow High School Theatre Department studens are all smiles after the Mt. Hood Conference Acting Festival at Centennial High School. Some of them will perform in the Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 shows that start Thursday, Feb. 13.  The words musical, comedy, murders and dinner don't get lumped all together too often, but a well-executed performance of "The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940" puts any seeming incongruity in context for an evening of rollicking theatricality.

That's the goal for Sam Barlow High School Theatre Program, which is staging seven dinner-theater performances of the John Bishop-written comedy at the Gresham History Museum at 6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, Feb. 13-15 and 20-22.

Reportedly inspired by several 1940s mystery movies, including "The Cat and the Canary," "Musical Comedy Murders" debuted in April 1987 and has since become a modern theater mainstay.

Sam Barlow Theatre Director Jeff Schroeder took a break from rehearsals to talk about the production.

The Outlook: What attracted you to "The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940"? Have you performed in or directed it before?

Jeff Schroeder: I first saw this play when my high school produced it my freshman year. It was hilarious, and I remember laughing hard and loving the story. I've always been a fan of the murder mystery genre. In college, I was cast in the role of Eddie McCuan, the comedian, in (Musical Comedy Murders) and it was the most fun I have ever had in a play. Additionally I directed it on our main stage my first year teaching at Barlow in 2015, and it was a huge success.COURTESY PHOTO: SAM BARLOW HIGH SCHOOL - Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 will contain some of the suspsensful aspects of an earlier Sam Barlow High production of The Stagedoor Slasher.

The Outlook: How did you sell it to your students?

Schroeder: Many of the students saw this production when they were in middle school, and were excited about doing this as a dinner theater in the Gresham History Museum. We did a dinner theater production of "Clue" last year, and it was very popular. We decided to continue the same concept, only this time, with a different story.

Outlook: How would you describe the play and its plot?

Schroeder: In this play, the creative team responsible for a recent Broadway flop assemble for a backer's audition of their new show at a strange house replete with sliding panels, secret passageways and an intense German maid — all of which figure diabolically in the comic mayhem which follows when the murderer makes their reappearance. The audience will be treated to a side-splitting good time and a generous serving of the author's biting, satiric and refreshingly witty whodunit.

Outlook: Are you keeping pretty faithful to the script and characters?

Schroeder: I adore the script, and we have been keeping to the original concept the show was written in. There is lots of stage combat, weaponry and illusions.

Outlook: How did you approach casting for this?

Schroeder: This being one of four productions we are producing at Barlow this year, I decided to conduct rehearsals during my Theatre 7-8 class that meets during seventh period each day. The students in class auditioned and were cast in the fall as either an actor or a technician.

Outlook: What's the most challenging aspect of rehearsing this production?COURTESY GRAPHIC: SAM BARLOW HIGH SCHOOL - Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 will be presented as a dinner theater at the Gresham History Museum.

Schroeder: We started rehearsals in October. This seems like a long time, but we only have 45 minutes to rehearse each day, it is necessary to start earlier. We have been rehearsing in our cafeteria and will move to the museum (during) opening week.

Outlook: How do you think audiences are going to react?

Schroeder: I adore this show and we are laughing in rehearsals every day. We have already sold out two performances. Seating is limited, so reserve your tickets now at sambarlowtheatre.com. You won't want to miss it.


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