Aaron Whaley, Hannah Jones Thomas, & Robbie Smith in The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940. Photo: Chicken Coop

The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940

By John Bishop
Directed by Jason Cooper

A review by Brian Kennedy

Entire contents are copyright © 2024 by Brian Kennedy. All rights reserved.

With plenty of humor, character work, and twists and turns, fans of old-style murder mysteries may want to check out The Chicken Coop Theatre Company’s production of The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940. 

The show focuses on an audition for a new show at a prospective backer’s mansion in upstate New York in December 1940. The creative team behind the audition is coming off a recent Broadway flop, partly due to someone named the Stage Door Slasher murdering three chorus girls. As the audition progresses, secrets are revealed, discoveries are made, and bodies pile up as much as the snow trapping everyone in the mansion.

The set, which director Jason Cooper designed and Bluegrass Production Studio constructed, is immaculately detailed. Audience members felt they were transported back to 1940 immediately upon entering The Bard Theatre.  A table with liquor bottles is positioned to the audience’s left, an oriental rug is placed center stage, a piano sits just behind the table and some chairs and a half-empty bookcase is on the wall to the audience’s right. An old radio with a small white statue on it sits next to the bookcase. In front of the bookcase are some cushioned chairs. Along the walls are paintings, including one of a dark, mysterious-looking house and another of an old, gray-haired man who is related to the mansion’s owner. Most of the items in the stage will either be used or referenced at some point in the story.

The cast solidly navigated the story and its constant twists and turns with gusto, never really letting up at any point throughout the show. As the young and not-very-good comedian Eddie McCuen, Zach Hurley gave a standout performance. He believably took his character in many directions, including as a nervous wreck, a hero, or just plain awkward. Meanwhile, Kate Holland Ballowe, as the maid Helsa Wenzel, earned the most laughs with her deadpan mannerisms and one-liners. 

The only issue was with costumes during entrances and exits outside the mansion. It’s December 1940 in New York. Several references were made to the snow piling up outside. Why are cast members coming in from the cold without gloves, top hats, and with coats wide open? Hallmark TV movies might be able to get away with that, but this show shouldn’t.

Regardless, with an abundance of laughs, an energetic cast, and plenty of plot twists, The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 should not be missed, especially for fans of the murder mystery genre. 

Featuring Macedonia Alexis, Kate Holland Ballowe, Andy Epstein, Brian Hinds, Zach Hurley, Robbie Smith, Hannah Jones Thomas, Kymberley Vaughn, Aaron Whaley, & Julie Zielinski

Musical Comedy Murders of 1940

March 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, & 23 @ 7:30 pm
March 17 & 24 @ 2:00 pm

The Chicken Coop Theatre Company
The Bard Theatre
511 E. Burnett Avenue
Louisville, KY 40217

Brian Kennedy is a nearly life-long Louisville resident who has performed in plays since 2004. He also wrote extensively about the Louisville theatre scene for Louisville.com and Examiner.com from 2009-2015. Currently, he maintains the theatre blog LouBriantheater. When not involved in the theatre scene, he is an avid runner, participating in 5Ks throughout the state and in southern Indiana.