Cabarrus

The play's the thing on New Year's Eve

Someone will be murdered on New Year's Eve.

Actually, someone has been killed off for the last 20 years as part of Old Courthouse Theatre's murder-mystery dinner theater held annually at The Speedway Club in Concord. Today is the last day to make reservations.

This year's show involves Jim and Phyllis Lodge, the "shady proprietors" of the struggling Mouldering Pines Inn. In an effort to drum up business, Phyllis lists their "haunted" inn on the ghost tour circuit, which lures in Madam Zelda Von Schpookum and the Boogeyman Outreach Organization. Phyllis is happy because the inn is full. Jim is nervous because his wife is making him play the part of a ghost. But when a real ghost shows up and starts spilling everyone's closely held secrets, the result is murder.

The audience, willingly or not, will make up the convention-goers, and it's the cast's job to make them part of the show.

"They will be entertained, I can promise you that much," said Becca Randolph, 23, who plays BOO agent Dana Skullery.

Randolph, who was born and raised in Concord, is studying theater and costuming at UNC Charlotte and has been with the Old Courthouse Theatre (OCT) for about 13 years, performing or helping with behind-the-scenes work. She said audience members can definitely expect to be interviewed by one of the BOO agents.

"It's so much more fun if they're willing to play with us," she added.

Shane Brayton, 27, has performed with the troupe for about 15 years. The Northwest Cabarrus High School graduate and former Concord resident plays Randolph's counterpart BOO agent, Fox Smolder.

"It's definitely a lot more interactive and touchy-feely, literally, than a traditional show," he said.

Director/actor Will Baysinger plays Jim. He also recommends people come with an open mind and an eagerness to participate.

"Now that doesn't mean if you're kind of shy and quiet, we're going to haul you out on stage and make you dance," he said. "That's part of the actors' job: figuring out whose going to be very interested in participating and who's going to want to back off and watch. If you want to just watch, you're still going to have a good time, but a lot of the action happens in and around the tables."

The event will begin with a cocktail hour, during which people can bid on silent auction items. Items range from jewelry and signed sports memorabilia to themed gift baskets. All proceeds will benefit OCT.

Throughout the show, there will be a four-course meal with wine, party favors and a champagne toast at midnight, music and dancing. The show will be split into parts, but will last about an hour.

After the murder occurs, the audience will be polled. Those who guess the murderer correctly are entered in a drawing for various prizes, like season tickets.

The award-winning OCT has been around more than three decades and has hosted its dinner theater show at The Speedway Club for about 15 years. Everyone involved in OCT is a volunteer, whether they make sets, costumes or perform. Hundreds, including Dan Truhitte who is best known for his portrayal of Rolf Gruber in "The Sound of Music," have contributed over the years.

About five of OCT's recent shows, including "Harvey" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," have had sell-out performances. Its recent production of "Best Christmas Pageant Ever!" sold out all 15 shows. The troupe also won a couple of awards this year, including a Constance Welsh Theatre for Youth Award from the N.C. Theatre Conference.

"The New Year's Eve show just runs the gamut with the entertainment," said Will's wife, Kim. "You'll get an over-the-top show, interaction with the actors, great food, dancing and a champagne toast at midnight."

Will and Kim have been married 10 years and met while performing in "Calamity Jane." Kim portrayed Jane, and Will was Wild Bill Hickok. Kim even got married in the dress she wore in the play, and the wedding took place on the OCT's stage in downtown Concord.

The two say OCT is like a big family.

"It's one of the things that strikes me regularly," said Will. "When new people come and get cast and are in show, or work back stage or volunteer, they're often surprised by how welcoming we are as a theater family. And many, many of them stay and do shows with us for a long period of time. As long as they're in the community, they come out and stay with us, and I think that's saying a lot."

This will be Hank West's 16th New Year's Eve show. He performed in the group's first dinner-theater show and also considers the group like family. West, 48, plays Professor Lionel Specter.

"I live in Charlotte, but I really love doing these for them," said West, a regular performer with Actor's Theatre, Theatre Charlotte and Queen City Theatre Company. "The very first one was actually done in a theater in a basement with a very small stage area, and it's so amazing that this has grown so much. ... I usually play the evil person who gets his comeuppance during the course of the evening. I won't say that will happen with this one, but it will be so much fun. What's been amazing to me is to see people who have come to the event through the years. They remember me, and I remember them. It's just great."

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