Margo Weill was drawn to several of the characters in “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940,” but none more so than Helsa Wenzel, the German maid for the Grossenknuten estate.
The actress began practicing her German accent even before Rockville Little Theatre (RLT) awarded her the role in November, honing it by watching YouTube videos, listening to Germans speaking English and using Google Translate. Weill thinks the accent may have come easier to her since her family has German roots; her father can speak a little bit of the language and she studied Yiddish in college.
“There is a lot of big physical comedy for the character, which I also saw as a challenge and was drawn to,” Weill said. “The show itself is a very physical, almost slapstick type comedy. …It is just really truly laugh-out-loud hysterical. The jokes are spot on. It’s really quick; it’s funny; it’s silly. It’s a solid, good piece of entertainment.”
RLT’s production of John Bishop’s comedy-murder mystery, which opened on Broadway in 1987, is set to take the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre stage for six performances from Feb. 1 through 10. The show focuses on a gathering of the creative team behind a recent Broadway flop – in which three chorus girls were murdered. The characters, some of whom may not be what they seem, meet to audition for a new show in a house full of secret passageways and sliding doors on a wealthy backer’s Chappaqua, New York estate.
“If you want to laugh and if you enjoy a good mystery, you will enjoy this show,” said Michael Abendshein who is directing for RLT for the first time. He has had roles in several of the community theater group’s productions, including “Our Town,” “The Tempest” and “The Miser.” “I know the type of quality that they (RLT) put into the work, and I thought it would be a good experience to work with this company as a director.”
Although Abendshein originally applied to direct another show, the board asked him to take on “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940” instead. “As soon as I read it, I was hooked,” he said. “It is very funny. …At its root, it is a murder mystery, but it is very well-written, and the jokes come out in the writing. Some lines will catch you off guard. They will make you laugh.” He views his job as “managing the timing (of the comedy) and getting everything to fall into place.”
Getting to know the cast members may be Abendshein’s favorite part of helming the show. “It’s a cast of 10 and every one of them has worked so hard to make this show great,” he said, noting that “some people came into the show late and put in extra amounts of work to get really into their characters.”
Abendshein noted that Weill has excellent comedic timing as Helsa. “She really inhabits the role and makes it her own,” he said. “What comes out of her mouth is pure gold.”
Weill attributes being drawn to the stage to her mother who took part in high school and college productions, and often played songs from musicals on the piano. The relative newcomer to the metropolitan area and its community theater scene starred as Susanna Walcott in Silver Spring Stage’s fall production of “The Crucible.” After such serious fare, she felt the RLT comedy would be a welcome change. The show reminds her of the Neil Simon play “Rumors,” which she performed while in high school.
“I remember really enjoying doing the farcical comedy,” she said. “…I think there is a fine line between comedy and horror (at murder), which people wouldn’t really expect. Because both (shows have) such extreme circumstances, that brings out the comedy … in the characters’ exaggerated reactions to such a horrifying event.”
Weill is pleased with her return to the stage. “I have really enjoyed diving into Helsa and taking on some new skills like stage combat and how to do this accent,” she said. “This show has really pushed me as an actor to go beyond what I was normally comfortable with.”
Rockville Little Theatre presents “The Musical Murder Mysteries of 1940” at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Feb. 1, 2, 8 and 9, and at 2 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 3 and 10, at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, 603 Edmonston Drive, Rockville. Tickets are $22, $20 for seniors (62+) and students with ID. Call 240-314-8690 or visit https://fscottfitzgerald.showare.com