City Theatre Austin’s Dramas, Murder Mysteries, and More Raise the Bar for the Local Performing Arts Scene
The local theatre group has been inspiring local creatives of all talents to join in for 17 years running
It’s 1940, and a devastating blizzard has trapped a bunch of theater folk (and a secret cop) inside an upstate New York mansion, which we soon discovered has plenty of secret passages that can’t be found on the property’s blueprints. You know what happened next, of course: murder.
The City Theatre Austin’s silly whodunnit, The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, ended its run last month on the humble stage of Genesis Fellowship Hall (shows run after service on Sundays). The slapstick comedy followed a group of actors, directors, and composers to the home of a wealthy patron of the arts, Elsa Von Grossenkneuten, under the guise of reading a new play. But Grossenkneuten has ulterior motives. She invites a detective to the gathering to pretend to be part of the theatrics, but he’s really there to try to discover the identity of the Stage Door Slasher, who murdered three chorus girls during the company’s last production.
Cloak and daggers—literally—ensued. In the first scene, the German maid is dramatically knifed by a hooded figure, and soon we see her dead body hidden in the closet. But wait, she has a twin? And possibly even a triplet? There was a cacophony of Brooklyn and Irish and German accents, sliding doors opened by shifting cups, red herrings, physical gags, a takedown of a Nazi saboteur, and even a love story.
Artistic director and general manager Andy Berkovsky started the City Theatre Austin company 17 years ago. Since then, he and hundreds of performers and thousands of audience members have welcomed six to ten commercial shows annually to various stages around Austin.
“A lot of new people coming to Austin are folks that have theater degrees or did theater in college or high school,” Berkovsky says. “There are artists, painters, sculptors, or artisans that do woodworking. There’s so many different levels and types of talent that are involved in live theater.”
Shows run the gamut of Shakespearian classics to popular musicals to modern comedies like Steel Magnolias, which opened this season. Anyone is welcome to audition—and auditions go on practically year-round.
“In a year’s time we cast maybe 100 to 120 actors in our shows, and that takes a lot of work,” Berkovsky says.
The group also just wrapped up The Last Cyclist, a black comedy cabaret about a society that rounds up all the bicyclists and sends them to “Horror Island,” originally written in 1944 by a prisoner in a concentration camp. The rest of the season includes performances of Picnic, Romeo and Juliet, and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. You can purchase tickets for individual performances (the church seats about 50 people and tickets can sell out), or buy two season tickets for $120 for general seating, or $150 for reserved central seats. Plus, you can purchase snacks and sodas for only a dollar during intermission. It’s the best deal in town.
For tickets and more information, go to citytheatreaustin.org.