The cast of Murder at Lenny’s Speakeasy. Photo: WhoDunnit

Murder at Lenny’s Speakeasy

Presented by WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theater

Written by A. S. Waterman
Directed by Heather Hensley

Review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents copyright © 2018 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

Who among us hasn’t read or watched a murder mystery and thought to themselves, “Hey, I’m a better detective than those characters are”? If you fancy yourself to be a clever sleuth, then come and wrap your brain and tantalize your taste buds with WhoDunnit’s latest presentation, Murder at Lenny’s Speakeasy, being presented at the Downtown Bristol Bar & Grille.

It is 1926 and Prohibition is in full swing. So where does one go to get a bit of the “Devil’s Water”? Why Lenny’s Speakeasy, of course. But how does one get into this establishment? Ya gotta know the secret password. (I’m happy to share it with you.) When you whisper those magic words to the dapper doorkeeper Seamus, he immediately escorts you to a room that is filled with candlelit tables and a small bar with various colored bottles and glasses lined on top. In the corner sits an old radio broadcasting the popular music of the time. In another corner, the entertainer of the evening, Crystal Payne (Victoria Edgar), is sitting at her dressing table preparing for the show that evening.

As guests of Lenny get situated and served by his dutiful staff, our hosts and hostess come around to introduce themselves. Lenny Smith (John Heffley) runs and operates this establishment only through the help of local “businessman” Henry O’Malley (John Campbell Finnegan) and his wife Lila Lottabux-O’Malley (Christina Kelty). Rumor has it that Henry has some deep ties with bootleggers and maybe the Mob and isn’t afraid to grease a few palms to make sure that business stays in business. While Crystal may get the spotlight, barkeep Lila has a hankering to be on the stage too and isn’t afraid to worm her way there.

It is no secret that O’Malley is a slick person and there are always cops and detectives trying to find a way to nail him, especially Detective Hayden Hathaway (Blake Wilkerson) who finds a way into Lenny’s with the hope of catching something awry. Much to the detective’s chagrin, things seem to be above board, even the nice glass of lemonade given to her before Crystal’s performance.

The show begins and Crystal delights all while the O’Malleys’ contempt of one another and of Lenny is distracting and almost ruins the show. Crystal keeps up the spirit and after a short time in her dressing room comes back out to finish the evening’s performances. But, wait! Something has gone horribly wrong and someone at the Speakeasy is in some serious trouble. There is a murderer afoot!

So now it is the audience’s turn to figure out the clues, however elusive or in your face they may be; hence the fun of the WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theater.

Among our cast of potential murderers is The Grimm Reader (Katherine Summerfield), who carries a book that looks similar to the Spiderwick Chronicles, acts as a Narrator and even communicates with the murder victim, guiding them to the next plane. If I am being honest, as hard as Ms. Summerfield worked as this character, I found The Grimm Reader to be unnecessary. While she did assist the audience into recollecting some hints/clues, the role seemed to be an add-on to the story. Now, had she come on first and actually narrated the story or set the story up, I think the character would have had more meaning.

On the whole, all of the actors did very well in keeping up with their characters. I very rarely noticed any of them break out of their selves once they arrived on the set. Part of the fun is in the interaction with these characters when you can ask them pretty much anything you want and they have to answer you either truthfully or evade the question. It was fun to throw questions or ideas at particular characters to see if I was on their trail or holding a cold hand.

Ms. Kelty’s Lila was brash and bold and as I heard her say, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap” – a spot-on interpretation. Mr. Finnegan was the epitome of a mobster, complete with the look and swagger. Who knew how well John Heffley could dance? We’ve seen Blake Wilkerson on the WhoDunnit stage before and she encapsulated the bumbling detective well, maybe evoking a little Columbo. Ms. Edgar’s first turn with this group seemed to fit the role, save for a little bit of nervousness in her singing, which I chalk up to first night jitters.

While Murder at Lenny’s Speakeasy had some strong points and even had the audience laughing at times, the script seemed to lag a bit within the dialogue and character interactions. How many times do we need to hear the characters “growl” at each other? And as I mentioned earlier, the Grimm Reader didn’t feel like she belonged in the story in the way that she was used.

Production was actually pretty good for such a small stage. The song choices were appropriate and lighting was fine as were the props seen throughout the evening. However, I noticed a plastic cup was being used…. just an FYI – those weren’t invented until the 1960’s.

All in all, it was an entertaining evening and a lot of fun to figure out who the murderer was. The performance proved that seeing is not always believing and to always keep your eyes open for the clues.

Bravi Tutti!!!

Murder at Lenny’s Speakeasy

May 12 – June 30, 2018

Seating at 6:30 / Show starts at 7:00

WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theater
At The Downtown Bristol
614 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202


Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.