Unsure how best to ring in 2019?
Should a comedic twist of murder, mystery and music float your boat consider Plaza Theatre Co.’s annual New Year’s Eve blowout.
The Monday night event brings the launch of Plaza’s new season and the debut of “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.”
“It’s not the first time we’ve done a comedy murder mystery,” Plaza Artistic Director JaceSon Barrus said. “But it’s the first time we’ve performed this show, and it’s a hoot.
“It’s set in a mansion where Broadway actors are invited to this rich woman’s house to present what they call a backwards audition where they perform this musical revue for her in hopes of having her produce their show.
“The fun thing is there’s not just one murder mystery to solve. There’s three.”
Cast member Shauna Lewis described the play as a rollicking blast.
“Actors in a comedy play want the audience to be loose and ready to laugh and I don’t think that’s going to be a problem with this show,” Lewis said. “It’s like the great old screwball comedy movies of the ‘40s or maybe “Young Frankenstein” though a bit more family friendly. Actually, it reminds me of the old “Carol Burnett Show” skits with Harvey Korman and Tim Conway. It’s a great comedy. But, of course, people get murdered.”
Lewis and her husband, fellow cast member Jay Lewis, should know, both having performed in The Greater Cleburne Carnegie Players’ take on the play several years ago.
“My wife and I look forward to reprising our roles,” Lewis said. “It’s absolutely just a great screwball lot-of-fun comedy full of misdirection, twins, triplets and cousins who look alike and no one’s sure what’s going on and references to real actors from the ’40s.”
But wait, Barrus said, that’s not all.
“Monday night is a special event because it’s unlike any show we do the entire rest of the year,” Barrus said. “The show is a big part of the evening, of course. But on that night only we have so much more.”
Pre-show entertainment for the New Year’s Eve show kicks off at 9 p.m. when Miss Devon & The Outlaw take the stage.
The duo perform western music that harkens to the days of old cowboys and cowgirls of the silver screen era.
“Roy Rogers said the difference is that in country music you have some fellow singing about his neighbor’s wife and in Western it’s singing about his neighbor’s horse,” The Outlaw said. “This music to me is just so uplifting. I mean there’s some sad and tragic stuff in there too but it’s more about fun and forgetting your troubles.”
Miss Devon snagged a Grammy for her work on the “Woody’s Roundup” CD singing the voice of Jessie from “Toy Story 2” and was recognized by the Academy of Western Artists as female performer of the year in 2009.
The duo have several times performed at downtown Cleburne’s Songbird Live.
“They’re fantastic,” Barrus said. “Just amazing talents.”
Post concert, the play begins about 10 p.m.
“Then we’ll take a little bit longer of an intermission because we’ll have a dessert bar out in the lobby,” Barrus said. “We’ll go on to the second act but, a few minutes before midnight, we’ll stop the show to hand out party favors and sparkling cider. Then we’ll count down to midnight, toast the new year, cheer and sing “Auld Lang Syne.””
But that’s still not all.
“After all that we start the second act and finish the show,” Barrus said. “Once the show is done, as audience members are leaving, they get black-eyed peas and cornbread.”
It’s an experience not to be missed, Shauna Lewis said.
“Jay performed in one of their new year’s shows a few years ago but this will be my first time to be onstage for that night,” Lewis said. “But we’ve gone other years as audience members. The actors drop character as it gets close to midnight and actors, audience, everyone celebrates the new year and then they go back and finish the play. It’s so much fun and such a great way to start the year.”
It’s also a Plaza tradition.
“We’ve done this every single year we’ve been open except for years when New Year’s falls on a Sunday as happened last year,” Barrus said.
Local favorites abound, Barrus said, and audience members will see a bumper crop of Plaza and Carnegie frequent flyers.
“This show is chock full of actors who have done a lot of Plaza shows,” Barrus said. “In addition to the Lewises we’ve got Luke Hunt, Milette Siler, Trich Zaitoon and more. Ten in the cast and I’m directing this one.”
It will be interesting, Barrus said, to see how the show’s challenges play out.
“Because we’re a theater in the round and this is a set that requires three different trapdoors and secret passageways,” Barrus said. “So, being in the round makes that tricky. We’re having to modify our space to make it work. It’s going to be very interesting how we do it.”
Tickets — $50 — are still available.
“That includes the show, pre-show entertainment, food, party favors and all that,” Barrus said.
“The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940” otherwise runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Jan. 26. Tickets for those performances cost $25 for adults, $23 for seniors and students and $15 for children.
Looking ahead to mid-year, Barrus said Plaza and the Cleburne Chamber of Commerce’s staging of Shakespeare in the Park returns for the fifth year running in June.
This year brings the classic tale of star-crossed lovers “Romeo & Juliet.” The play stages June 7-8 at Buddy Stewart Park.
For tickets and information on upcoming Plaza shows visit plaza-theatre.com or call 817-202-0600.