Wilburton Inn to stage its murder mystery dinner theater

Historic Northshire mansion hosts popular interactive 'Mystery in the Mountains' series

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MANCHESTER — In Manchester, the colors of the leaves have turned. The bite of the night air is taking a turn toward frosty, and just when you were used to longer days, suddenly, there is darkness.

That might sound a bit ominous, but not in the imagination of regional fans of the mystery genre, who in the fall have come to accept that several things will always occur: death, taxes, elections, and the most widely recognized murder mystery dinner theater for miles around — the latter taking place at the historic Wilburton Inn, according to Melissa Levis, the Levis family innkeeper.

"Welcome to our fall edition of `Mystery in the Mountains,' just in time for locals to congregate and participate in the intrigue and the challenge of solving the crime," Levis said with a decidedly mischievous smile.

The play, "The Dangerous Divorcee," which runs for a single performance and typically sells out, will take place on Saturday, Nov. 3, at 6:30 p.m.

Family innkeeper and New York City playwright Tajlei Levis uses the Wilburton's rich history as the milieu for the creative sleuthing — which are her original works. The intricate plots are composed to keep everyone guessing as guests mingle and dine with the cast, and collaborate on "just exactly whodunit," Tajlei said.

The story is set in 1938, and directed by David Bonanno and Theresa Kloos.

"Tajlei is masterful at creating a wonderfully nostalgic world where anyone can be a suspect," Bonanno said. "On top of all that she brings a wit and a charm to her characters. My job really is just to make sure that the mystery is unfolding for the audience in a clear and fun way. It's all about the audience feeling engaged and entertained and challenged a bit at the same time."

In the story, Dottie Margrove (Susan Haefner) — the soon to be ex-wife of Hollywood honcho Marvin Margrove (Munson Hicks) —has fled to Vermont with her friend, composer Oscar Hammertoe (Brian Drutman) and her divorce lawyer Lucille Lemon (Bronwyn Whittle) to plot her next chapter.

Dottie's revenge will be to make a bigger, better, studio movie than her award-winning philandering husband ever did. Dottie insists that "[m]y success would simply kill him!"

She's hired the famous novelist Helvetica Fitzwilliams (Tina Cutler) to write the screenplay and the demanding wunderkind director Werner (David Gregory) who would kill for a chance to make his masterpiece.

The ing nue, Kitty Cartwright (Kloos) is playing all the angles. The leading man Enrico Suave Bollo (Peter Langstaff) is following people around.

Everyone is dying to get in on the action. But, will this secret weekend getaway, include getting away with murder?

"My mysteries tend to be interactive romantic comedies, with political satire and songs from the era," Levis said, matching her sister's earlier chuckle. "Songs from the era will be curated by musical director and Grammy-award winning Broadway music producer Brian Drutman."

The music of each mystery has become an audience favorite, Tajlei noted, and Drutman has had a lot to do with that.

Drutman, a former executive at Decca Label Group, explained that he began participating in the mysteries "a few years ago and have enjoyed my collaboration with the Levis family."

"The more Tajlei and I talked about my involvement, the more we explored the great possibilities of my playing a role in the show," Drutman said. "But even more significantly, my playing piano would be part of the show, accompanying the actors in particular songs and providing general musical atmosphere and entertainment."

Part of that entertainment is a cast full of actors who can carry a tune. One such Thespian, local favorite Langstaff, of Dorset, has been a professional stage performer since childhood, and said that he relishes taking on The Leading Man.

"I play the leading man in a movie being shot in Vermont," Langstaff said. "His name is Enrico Soave Bollo, a play on the name of the famous wine. He is charming, handsome and a bit of a gigolo. He has a habit of escorting dowagers, who die and leave him their money. They die happy though!"

Newcomers are also taken with the prospect of the mystery. Actor Susan Haefner will be taking part in her first show of the series.

"I'm so excited to be part of my first ever Mystery in the Mountains, playing the Dangerous Divorcee herself, `Dottie' Margrove," Haefner said. "I want what every women wants: revenge on my soon to be ex."

Haefner added that she has "heard about how zany and wonderful these events are," and said she "can't wait to experience it first hand with a stellar cast."

Guests are highly encouraged to dress in costume of the era, which for this show will be cocktail wear, or Hollywood Glamour.

"Outfits of the late 1930s are definitely in, and most welcome for `The Dangerous Divorcee,'" Tajlei said. "This, so [the audience] become[s] part of the action as they dine and mingle with the cast, and interview them to learn their secrets and motives. The audience will work together in teams to solve the mystery."

Innkeeper Melissa noted that audience members are often overnight guests at the Wilburton, as well as members of the general public who come to attend just the evening.

"The murder mystery is very popular and typically sells out late, so interested parties should contact us as soon as possible," Melissa said.

Finally, playwright Tajlei stressed the main point of the evening is a good time:

"We hope everyone has fun, makes new friends, shares a laugh, a delicious meal, and learns something about the era [portrayed]," Tajlei said.

"The Dangerous Divorcee" will take place on Nov. 3 at 6:30 p.m., at The Wilburton Inn. The Inn is located at 257 Wilburton Drive off River Road, in Manchester Village. Murder Mystery Dinner tickets are $70 and include a gourmet dinner and champagne toast. Call to inquire on discounted tickets for groups of 8 or more. Full bar available. Call 802-362-2500 for reservations. For a video peek at last year's mystery, visit wilburtoninn.com.

Reach award-winning freelance journalist Telly Halkias at tchalkias@aol.com or on Twitter: @TellyHalkias


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