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story.lead_photo.caption Patrick O’Reilly, played by Jeremy Clay, and Madam Elsa Von Grossenknueten, played by Jennifer Medford, have a quiet discussion in this rehearsal scene of The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940. The play will be presented June 14-24 at The Royal Theatre in Benton.

BENTON — The Royal Theatre and Johnston’s Home Center invite patrons to an evening of mystery, suspense and laughter as they present The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, by John Bishop.

The whodunit murder mystery will be presented June 14-17 and June 21-24 at The Royal Theatre, 111 S. Market St. in downtown Benton. Curtain time is 7 p.m. for Thursday through Saturday performances and 2 p.m. for Sunday performances.

The story is set in the middle of the worst blizzard in years, when the elite of Hollywood society gather at the mansion of a wealthy patron of the arts in upstate New York to plan their new production. The team’s last production was shadowed in a murderous scandal by the infamous Stage Door Slasher, who remains at large. The audience will wonder if the slasher is among them. No one knows for sure.

The local production is under the direction of Tim Huddleston of Benton, with Tony Clay of Sheridan as producer.

“This play was written in the 1980s and is in the spirit of the mystery movies of the 1940s, including The Cat and the Canary, which starred Bob Hope,” said Clay, who has been involved in 38 productions at The Royal Theatre during the past several years. “Our production is a 14-person cast; we expanded it a little to get more people onstage. In the past, we have had an ensemble to feature more people. This show has no ensemble, but we have two understudies.

“It is a comedy,” Clay said. “It does have a little music, but it is not a musical.

“It is a whodunit. Actually, several murders occur. There are a variety of people who are suspects. No one appears to be who they seem to be. I’ve read the script several times, and it is always as funny as the first time I read it.”

Huddleston agreed that the play is funny.

“There is one scene that has five characters in it. … I don’t know how we’re going to get through it without cracking up,” he said, laughing.

“It’s one of those ‘Who’s on first?’ situations … a who-what-why-who-what-why type of thing,” he said.

“It’s very entertaining,” said Huddleston, who is making his directorial debut with The Royal Players. “I have been involved in productions at The Royal Theatre for about two years. I did the lighting for It’s a Wonderful Life, and that’s when I met Tony. I’ve progressed from lighting and sound to acting, and now to directing.”

Crew members have built the set, under the direction of Huddleston and Paige Carpenter of Little Rock, prop mistress. Carpenter, who is originally from Lonsdale, is an actor and a master carpenter at the Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre. The set includes hidden bookcases that slide in and out of the wall.

The cast includes the following:

• Jeremy Clay of Benton plays Irish tenor Patrick O’Reilly.

• Joshua Grandon of Benton appears as eccentric film director Ken De La Maize.

• Nick Bell of Bryant portrays comedian Eddie McCuen. Bell also designed the poster and playbill-cover artwork.

• Jamie Partain of Benton plays fashionista Marjorie Baverstock.

• Destiny Marchese of Little Rock plays chorus girl Nikki Crandall. The understudy for this character is Savannah Price of Bryant.

• Hillary Bell of Benton plays writer Bernice Roth. The understudy for this character is Madelynne West, also of Benton.

• Jennifer Medford of Benton appears as wealthy patron Madam Elsa Von Grossenknueten.

• Matthew Burns of Benton plays musical composer Roger Hopewell.

• Johnny Jackson of Bryant appears as undercover cop Michael Kelly.

• Kenzi Brenton of Bryant appears as German maid Helsa Wenzel.

Rounding out the cast are the voice talents of Eric McCallister of Benton as the radio newscaster and Nicholas Love of Bryant as the mysterious phantom/Stage Door Slasher.

Additional members of the crew include Phoebe Earles of Benton, stage manager; Michelle Griffis of Bauxite, lighting specialist; Charles Johnson of Little Rock, sound engineer; Rebecca Stewart of Benton, costumer; Chaska Richardson of Benton, playbills; and Carissa Lumpkins of Haskell and Earles, publicity.

General-admission tickets for The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 are $12 for adults; $10 for senior citizens 60 and older, members of the military and college students; and $6 for high school students and younger. Tickets can be purchased online at www.theroyalplayers.ticketleap.com.

For reservations, call (501) 315-5483. Tickets may also be purchased at the door, if available.

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