Your community theater may be betting, as two near me are this season, that crime pays, that you and I will buy tickets and park ourselves in soft seats to see crimes committed on stage and solved.

But can we solve the crime before the detective does . . . or the amateur sleuth does?

That’s the game.

The proof that we theater goers love a mystery is right there in Agatha Chistie’s “The Mousetrap”. That stage play first hit the boards at the Ambassadors Theatre in London on November 25, 1952.

And the production has never closed. It’s running still in London’s West End, at St. Martin’s Theatre, there since 1974. More than 24,000 performances to date.

I have no idea how many community theaters have put “The Mousetrap” on their stages. Thousands, surely.

Nearby Beloit Civic Theatre, here in southern Wisconsin, assembled a trio of crime dramas for it current season, which it advertises as a season to die for: “Whodunit, The Musical”, “Cliffhanger”, and “Deathtrap”.

“Whodunit” was a romp. Three of the six cast members were musical theater professionals. My, could they sing and act – they were marvelous.

Playwright Ed Dixon based his script on Mary Roberts Rinehart’s novel, “The Circular Staircase”.

Rinehart (1876-1958) is our American counterpart to Agatha Christie. She was an eminently successful writer of mysteries, and it was Rinehart’s 1908 novel, “The Circular Staircase,” that shot her into the stratosphere of the publishing world. The book sold a million and a quarter copies in her lifetime.

In “The Circular Staircase”, a middle-aged spinster is persuaded by her niece and nephew to rent a country house for the summer. The house had belonged to a man who had stolen securities and hidden them in the walls of the house, a man now thought to be dead.

Dixon retailored the story. He has a wealthy spinster and her cockney maid rent a Connecticut summer home. The year is 1931. When they arrive, all the help has quit, except for an odd butler who tells them that something strange is going on. The spinster’s niece joins them, bringing a boyfriend from college. That night as all are settling in, a face appears at the window and someone tries to break in. Later, after everyone has gone to bed, a gun shot sounds. The cast come running from their rooms to investigate, and they find a body lying in the middle of the living room – the body of a stranger.

A body on the floor trumps most things. So if one is good, why not two?

So, yes, there is a second murder.

And then a detective arrives . . . an individual as strange as the butler.

Speaking of the butler, that cliched phrase “The butler did it” comes from Mary Roberts Rinehart’s novel “The Door”, in which the butler actually did do it.

But back to “Whodunit, The Musical”, the show is part mystery, part drawing room farce, and very much a musical comedy.

Can you see it somewhere?

Maybe.

The Beloit show was only the third production of the musical in the country.

It is that new.

Tomorrow: Meet the real Inspector Hound

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