June 1 2011 12:00 AM

Director hopes ’Musical Comedy Murders’ slays Riverwalk audiences


At first glance, it may seem that director Lisa Sodman
Elzinga has murder on the brain. She is, after all, behind Riverwalk
Theatre’s “Musical Comedy Murders of 1940,” which opens Thursday.  And her previous effort was Starlight Dinner Theatre’s “A Murder Is Announced.”

Still, she says, it is merely coincidence — and not homicidal tendencies — that led her to helm a whodunit once again.

“I actually didn’t pick either play, and for this one the
original director had to leave,” she said. “They said ‘Hey, there’s this
script, it’s a farce,’ and comedy draws me anyway.  I took it sight unseen.”

John Bishop’s play takes place in the mansion of wealthy
theater backer Elsa Von Grossenknueten (Elitza Nicolaou), where police
have reunited the creative team from the recent Broadway flop “Manhattan
Holiday.” The play’s run was marred by a series of unsolved murders
committed by the “Stage Door Slasher.” After things get underway, mayhem
ensues as bodies start dropping once again against a backdrop of a
secret passageway haunted by masked figures with motives and suspects

“This is really like three or four shows
in one,” Sodman Elzinga said. “For one thing, they’re trying to finance a
big Broadway musical. And there’s the slasher story. There’s a love
story. There are Nazi spies, even. It’s very intelligent, exciting and intricate. Once it starts. it just rolls.”

Sodman Elzinga is no theatrical novice. In addition to
Starlight and Riverwalk, the Lansing Civic Players, Lansing Community
College and Jeff Daniels’ Purple Rose Theatre are just a few of the
venues to showcase her talents. 

“Murders” marks her Riverwalk directorial
debut, and finds her coming full circle, having begun her career there
as a performer in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “I’m so glad they took
a chance on me,” she said.

Although the show features an elaborate set that includes
multiple trap doors and portraits with moving eyes, Sodman Elzinga said
that it’s the large and talented ensemble that takes center stage.

“It’s complicated keeping track of nine characters, trap door entrances and exits and who-murdered-who and when:  Luckily,
these actors have really owned their roles,” she said. “It’s so fun to
have this big group of people, set them onstage and see how well they
play together.  There are twists and turns throughout and it has a really nice payoff."

The cast also includes Veronica Diebold, Joe Dickson,
Scott Laban, Michael Hays, Susan Chmurynsky, Alan Patrick, Jason Carlen,
Erica Lynn Beck and Sarah Sonnenberg.

’Musical Comedy Murders of 1940’
Riverwalk Theatre
228 Museum Drive, Lansing
Through June 12
7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and 2 p.m. Sundays
$14 adults; $12 for seniors, students and military.
Bargain Thursdays $10, $8 seniors, students and military
(517) 482-5700