Shawn Yates Candlelight Theatre murder myster

Candlelight whodunnit makes you wonder who’s really who

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Shawn Yates Candlelight Theatre murder myster

Shawn Yates, center, plays the composer of an ill-fated show in Candlelight Theatre’s ‘Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.’ Photo by Tisa Della-Volpe Photography

Candlelight Theatre patrons often ask actor Shawn Yates as he’s serving their dinner for hints about who the killer is in the Arden playhouse’s production of “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.”

Yates, who plays composer Roger Hopewell, always tries to give a vague sort of hint, but it’s easier said than done.

Many of the 10 actors in the show play multiple roles.

“There’s four primary suspects, but everyone winds up being a suspect at some point,” Yates said.

Even Hopewell has secrets, Yates said.

“Almost every actor is pretending to be somebody they’re not,” said Bob Kelly, the theater’s artistic director. “One actor who’s playing an Irish actor is actually somebody else who then actually winds up being somebody else, so it becomes a very involved plot of multiple identities.”

Fun, food and farce is the order of the evening at Candlelight, which offers dinner before the shows.

In a holdover from COVID-19 restrictions, patrons choose entrees and dessert from a menu rather than visiting a buffet themselves. Servers — several of them performers in the show — deliver food to their table.

slasher Candlelight theater musical comedy

Most of the actors in Candlelight Theatre’s ‘Musical Comedy Murders of 1940’ play multiple roles. Photo by Tisa Della-Volpe Photography


Candlelight dinner

Choices include shrimp with cocktail sauce, ricotta-stuffed pasta shells topped with marinara and mozzarella, flank steak with mushroom gravy, salmon with coconut cream sauce and more. Vegetarian meals can be provided.

Yates said all the actors are offered the chance to serve dinner, but no one is required to.

“I enjoy serving,” he said. “You really get to connect to the audience. All these subscribers come see every show,  so you start seeing some of the same people again and again. You kind of build a rapport with them.

He’s also got a theatrical advantage.

“My character doesn’t come in until 20 minutes into the play so I still have a little time to decompress after serving or cleaning tables,” he said.

“Musical Comedy Murders” continues a recent tradition of Candlelight offering one drama or comedy a year in a schedule of musical extravaganzas to break up the season.

“When I came in, I directed a few plays. We started with ‘Steel Magnolias’ and that did pretty well,” Kelly said. “Even though we didn’t get the kind of attendance we get for a musical, it struck me that there was an audience out there for those kinds of shows.”

The drama-only plays have included the female version of “The Odd Couple” and “Driving Miss Daisy,” but “Musical Comedy Murders” follows the success of last year’s “Clue.”

Attendance for the play often rivals that of the musicals, Kelly said.

Candlelight TheaterMusical Theater Murders of 1940

Candlelight’s “Musical Theater Murders” play follows a recent tradition of adding a drama or comedy into what once was an all-musical lineup. Photo by Tisa Della-Volpe Photography

“Musical Comedy Murders,” which ends Sunday, June 25, played Off-Broadway in New York City, takes play right before World War II in a New York mansion owned by a theater benefactor.

It drops members of a recent Broadway flop, in which three chorus girls were murdered, into a benefactor’s home, only to be trapped by a blizzard with a masked killer.  Doors slam, walls slide away and the murderer drags his victims to secret hiding spots.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Yates said, who may have a familiar face to the audience. He’s been in Candlelight shows for about six years and also has appeared in productions by Bootless Stageworks in Wilmington.

“The plots can be all over the place because there are a lot of twists and secret identities and people who are not who they say they are to begin with. And so, especially in Act II, there’s al ot of reveals of characters who have been one thing and are now something completely different.”

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Yates really likes working with the ensemble.

“A lot of characters are either paired up or teamed up, but every every once in a while you wind up working with a different character all of a sudden to progress the plot,” he said.

Many of the roles are caricatures of people that the audience will recognize, and it’s fun leaning on those stereotypes, including a drunk.

The audience reception has been great, he said.

“There’s a lot of places where you get typical laughs that are basically built into the script, jokes that are meant to get laughs,” he said. “And then in every show, there’s always some place new that someone is laughing where we don’t quite expect it because it hasn’t really gotten a laugh before.”

Details: The Candlelight Theatre is at 2208 Millers Road in Arden. (302) 475-2313. Tickets are about $70 for adults for dinner and the show and $33 for children. Play-only tickets are available. Get ’em here.

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