The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940
is a short comedy by John Bishop. The play was first performed on Broadway
on April 6
, in The Longacre Theatre
, and was first directed by John Bishop. 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.
In the opening scene, we see Helsa is killed by a masked figure. We also see Elsa talking to a police officer, Michael Kelly, about some sort of undercover scheme. Both seem to be unaware of the maid's murder.
The next morning, we see Helsa again, only now her entire personality seems to have changed overnight. The guests Elsa has invited soon begin to arrive. They have been invited for a backer's audition to the Musical White House Merry-Go-Round.
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 Holliday, in which The Stage Door Slasher murdered three women. Eddie instantly wants to leave, but decides to stay after the rest of the team enters and woos him into staying.
After things get underway, Marjorie is murdered and the body of Helsa is discovered. It doesn't take long for everyone to figure out the identity of the actual murderer.
Helsa is the maid that is quickly killed off at the beginning of the play by her brother Deiter Wenzel, who then impersonates
her. This impersonator turns out to be the real killer, but not The Stage Door Slasher. Helsa was originally played by Lily Knight
. Helsa's role in the show shows that she is the star comedienne.
Elsa Von Grossenknueten
Elsa is the owner of the mansion and is the financial backer of many musicals. Elsa summons the group together in an attempt to find out who murdered her "friend" Bebe McAllister. She is extremely eccentric, and thinks that the idea of chasing after a killer is great fun. Her grandfather was a spy
, and she claims that espionage
runs in her blood. There is an undercurrent of lesbianism
in Elsa's character, as evidenced in her relationship with maid Helsa and Bebe McAllister, who is described as being a "very close friend".
Kelly is an undercover cop. He has been sent there to try and figure out which of the other characters is The Stage Door Slasher. However his efforts almost make him a victim later in the play when he vanishes into one of the house's many secret passages. Willie C. Carpenter
was the first to play him.
Posing as an Irish tenor, we learn that O'Reilly is a Gestapo Agent named Klaus Stansdorff. After he's caught he soon tries to explain himself, but becomes another victim when he's stabbed by Helsa through a copy of Moby-Dick
from behind a movable bookcase. The Original O'Reilly was played by Nicholas Wyman
Ken De La Maize
First played by Michael Ayr
, Ken is the director...and later turns out to be The Stage Door Slasher. Although he did not actually kill anyone...he did try to kill Eddie, and later held Nikki, Kelly, Bernice, Elsa and Roger hostage in a plan to burn down the mansion and get him off the hook. His plans were spoiled however when Eddie came through another bookcase and knocked him out with a bottle of cognac
. He was later arrested by Kelly and taken away with Deiter Wenzel, Helsa's impersonator.
Originally played by Dorothy Cantwell
, Nikki is a Naval Intelligence Officer posing as a performer. She is also there to find The Slasher. She is saved from certain death twice by Eddie.
Directly based on Bob Hope, Eddie is the out of work comedian that ties the different story lines together, he is also the only character that has neither an alter-ego or an affiliation with Manhattan Holiday
. He has an obvious attraction to Nikki the whole play, and ultimately ends up saving the day and getting the girl. First played by Kelly Connell
, Eddie is known for his bad jokes and his favorite phrase: 'Hot Dog!'
Killed off at the end of the first Act, Marjorie was a very wealthy and well-to-do lady who has apparently had a major tiff with Bernice. Marjorie was first played by Pamela Dunlap
Roger Hopewell and Bernice Roth
Originally oplayed by Richard Seff
and Bobo Lewis
, Roger and Bernice acted as each other's Yin and Yang
. Although they fought a lot, neither of them could go on without each other. During the entire play,(as Bernice becomes more and more drunk) Bernice attempts to fix White House Merry-Go-Round
. At the end of the play, however, she decides that they should instead make a musical set on the American frontier, with focus on a surry with "Frilly little crap." This proposed play is to be called Nebraska,
which is an obvious reference to the hit musical, Oklahoma!