Broadway Palm makes a killing with murder mysteries - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Broadway Palm makes a killing with murder mysteries

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Posted: Wednesday, November 14, 2007 5:47 pm | Updated: 6:12 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

For the longest time, it seems, the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre has struggled to find a profitable purpose for its Marquee Room.

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For the longest time, it seems, the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre has struggled to find a profitable purpose for its Marquee Room.

You probably don’t recall the Mesa supper-and-showhouse’s ill-fated efforts at a regular Sunday brunch three years back in that space, a banquet room adjoining the mainstage theater. That was a $10,000 misstep.

A room with dining tables and access to a full kitchen? It’s a wonder the Palm took this long to tap into the Valley’s most reliably popular theatrical entertainment form — murder mysteries. Rival theater troupes from Scottsdale to Peoria have been serving up three-course comic whodunits, trading body counts for boffo box office receipts, for years.

The Palm’s murder-mystery offering, “Murder in Paradise,” written by Jackson Fisher and Mark Turvin and directed by Fisher, opened this summer and has been going like gangbusters ever since, playing to full houses of locals and tourists. (It says plenty that even this theater critic had trouble securing an open seat in the initial weeks.)

“Murder in Paradise” sticks to the usual formula: Audience members given goofy identities (“Les Ismore,” “Dee Railed”) must, by dessert’s end, find a killer from a motley cast of eccentric characters.

Here it’s the wealthy Winchester family, assembled on their private island hunting preserve to celebrate the birthday of patriarch Calvin Winchester III (Craig Victor), a blustering, big-boned cowboy in the manner of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’s” Big Daddy meets Boss Hogg from “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

They’re joined by a pompous film director (Joseph Kearns), a washed-up actress (Kathi Osborne) and others, including the obligatory police inspector (Victor again) — all implicated in a heinous murder, once daddy Winchester takes a surreptitious shotgun blast to the back.

It’s not a particularly good script; the show gets bogged down by too much exposition — which, in this silly, insubstantial genre, can be, well, deadly. As a general rule, the best murder mysteries have the thinnest veneer of plot and the jokes tend to be cheesy, punny groaners.

“Paradise,” by contrast, occasionally attempts something akin to nouveau Noel Coward: “I know all there is to know about law enforcement!” director Sidney Lumiere tells the inspector. “After all, I directed 'Supercop 2.’”

Thankfully, the cast plays its parts to the absurdest hilt, and the show frequently calls on members of the audience to play scripted characters. Audience participation can be hilarious — such as when, on the night I attended, a perhaps inebriated attendee grabbed a stray prop pistol and attempted to make a citizen’s arrest.

What about the food, you ask? Pretty good stuff, better than the sometimes bland fare — think chicken-with-rice from a wedding reception — dished out by other murder mystery companies. A plate of raviolis before the salad course was a nice touch.

At any rate, the Palm has a hit on its hands with this “Paradise,“ and the company expects it’ll bring the show back in January.

Call it a murder-mystery revival.

REVIEW | "Murder in Paradise"

When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Where: Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, 5247 E. Brown Road, Mesa

Cost: $39, includes meal

Information: (480) 325-6700 or www.broadwaypalmwest.com

Grade: B-

Contact Chris Page by email, or phone (480) 898-5656

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