“Rehearsal for Murder,” now playing at Showtimers, is a descendant of television’s “Columbo” and “Murder, She Wrote” in that it was written by the same guys who dreamed up the plots of those classic mystery shows: Richard Levinson and William Link.
In fact, “Rehearsal” began life as a 1982 TV drama on CBS. It was later adapted for the stage by D.D. Brooke.
Anyway, if you remember the TV shows, you know they were characterized by smart and reliably inventive storylines. Well, guess what: So is “Rehearsal for Murder.”
In it, the star of a new Broadway show is found dead after the first-night performance. The police rule the death a suicide, the actress apparently having greatly overreacted to negative reviews.
But her fiance, the play’s author, doesn’t buy it. Rather than having jumped from her apartment balcony, he believes, she was hoisted over the railing by person or persons unknown.
One year to the day later, he reassembles that night’s cast and crew on the very stage where his late fiancee delivered her final performance. The purpose of the gathering ostensibly is a reading of the playwright’s new work. In reality, it is to expose the supposed murderer.
“Rehearsal for Murder” is a play within a play in which Showtimers’ own theater becomes a setting and the actors make ample use of the premises both onstage and off.
Playwright Alex Dennison is portrayed by Brian Lee. It’s a capable performance except for Lee’s tendency to bellow his lines rather than deliver them in more fitting tones. Dennison’s ill-fated fiancee, Monica Welles, is played by Stevie Holcomb.
Producer Bella Lamb and director Lloyd Andrews are played by Tonya Alicia Hall and Lucas Majors Pickett, respectively. Anthony Marks, as “Man in Audience,” lifts the part well above its modest billing. Showtimers Barry Bedwell, Jane Ostdiek and David J. Schultz appear as actors, of all things. Supporting roles — sometimes more than one — are filled by Edward Hrinya, Kiesha Preston and Jamie Choina Stewart.
The show is directed by David J. Colatosti. He also designed the lighting, sound and sets.
“Rehearsal for Murder” is replete with flashbacks, voice-overs and the like, not to mention wicked twists of the plot. The opening-night performance was fitful yet reasonably promising overall, thanks mostly to the sharp script. For committed mystery fans, it’s two hours of whodunit catnip.