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REVIEW: Glensheen is Murderously Good (History Theatre)

Sandra Strughers, Gary Briggle, Jen Maren, Ruthie Baker, and Adam Qualls re-enact an iconic photo moment in the Glensheen murders scandal. Photo by Scott Pakudaitis.

Several of Glensheen‘s musical numbers poke fun at musical theatre tropes. L-R Gary Briggle, Dane Stauffer (as Roger), and Adam Qualls. Photo by Scott Pakudaitis.

A year and a half ago, I heard that a murder mystery of a musical set in Duluth was making a killing at the History Theatre. When the show was revived the following summer, my staff clamored to be first to review this musical by Jeffrey Hatcher and Chan Poling. Now that it’s been revived yet again – still with the original cast – I can personally report that the musical Glensheen is fresh, brilliant, and well-deserving of the box office reaping (and horde of death-related puns) in St. Paul.

Much ink has already been spilled about the virtues of the ensemble, which are many, and on the splendid merits of Jen Maren’s performance as would-be heiress Marjorie Congdon Caldwell. The directing by Ron Peluso is sharp, the cast are still very much on point, and the small music ensemble led by Andrew Fleser rockets through Chan Poling’s score and the arrangements by Robert Elhai. The whole evening (or afternoon, if you like your homicide seasoned with matinée) comes together so smoothly that a chaser would be unnecessary and excessive.

The cast of Glensheen. Photo by Scott Pakudaitis.

One of the show’s virtues is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and constantly works to subvert and poke fun at musical theatre tropes. Just one well-planned opening scene in, Jeffrey Hatcher starts dispensing with the customary exposition – after all, the audience knows that murder is in the air. This facilitates cutting to scenes that flash like memories and testimonies, propelling the story forward quickly. Subversion is also the lyrical norm: Poling’s lyrics delight in upending the rhyme scheme with different completions than you expect. Glensheen is immensely funny, superbly paced, and a great introduction to local lore.

Let the killing live on.

Glensheen plays through July 30 at the History Theatre in St. Paul.

Basil Considine