Whodunit Dinner Theater celebrates 25 killer years 

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In 1990, a 15-year-old actress collected her moxie and found a ride to an audition. She walked out with the role of Whodunit Dinner Theater’s sassy character Penelope Purr.

The character was a bit of a vamp, so the fair heroine adroitly applied her lipstick, gave the director a look, blotted her pout and tossed the tissue on the table in front of the director as she said, “You should hang on to this; I’m going to be famous one day.”

With that bold move, she owned the audition and earned the part. By 2005, she also owned Whodunit Dinner Theater.

“[Whodunit was created by Margie Madden,] my best friend and mentor,” said Terri Myers, 25-year acting veteran, writer, director and theater company owner. “She, along with Earlene Cottet, who wrote the very first script, and a third collaborator, Peggy Luster, really is the foundation of Whodunit.”

Creating community

It’s a true dinner theater experience for guests, who become a part of the performance in varying degrees and enjoy a meal while they do it. Performances are presented at Cattlemen’s Steakhouse in Stockyards City and at the original Ted’s Café Escondido location at May Avenue and NW 68th Street. A $48 adult ticket includes show admission and a buffet-style meal with entree, side dish and dessert selections (as well as tax and gratuity). Events run about three hours.

Whodunit Dinner Theater celebrates its 25th year in 2015, and in an era marked, or perhaps marred, by society’s penchant for sitting alone in front of tiny screens, its longevity is no small feat and one worth recognizing.

“In those early years, before the Internet and before you could just buy tickets online, Margie managed to get the word out, sell tickets and fill the shows all by hand,” Myers said. “She created something that endures because it allows people to literally be burdenless for a couple of hours. We serve dinner, we entertain, we make people laugh and we create community within our audience.”

Myers realized just how powerful theater could be at age 17 after a woman approached her after a show.

“She told me that that had been the first time she’d laughed in six months. Her husband had passed away, and she’d reluctantly agreed to come out for the evening to the show, and it made her laugh,” she told Oklahoma Gazette. “I realized we could lift people’s burdens. It motivates me still to make every performance better so we can do that for people.”

Murder becomes her

Her Whodunit career continued until life, including marriage and children, took center stage. Or so she thought.

“Margie, who is a genius, started a talent agency, Magna Talent, and was running that and running Whodunit. Everything Margie touches is wildly successful, and Magna was growing,” Myers said. “I heard she was thinking of closing down Whodunit, and I called her and asked if I could buy it.”

Madden agreed, the deal was done and Myers and husband Eric began, under Madden’s direction, to learn the business. Eric still serves as the company’s behind-the-scenes guy, handling props and logistics and wrangling actors and guest reservations.

Myers still performs and recently completed her first script, Whodunit Part YOU.

“It took me about three months to write. By the time I was done, I was so jumpy,” she said. “You think you’re just writing a fun script for a dinner theater show, but because we are a murder mystery show, I was constantly thinking about murder weapons and how to kill people.”

As she and the cast performed her show for the first time, Myers said hearing an audience laugh at lines she wrote was mind-blowing.

Whodunit Part YOU is a much more audience-inclusive performance than our other shows,” she said. “It has max interaction.”

Five or six audience members are selected to participate in each show.

“There is a bag placed on each table,” Myers said.

Each bag includes a costume, props and a script with two key speeches lasting one minute.

“The people at the table decide which of them will become part of the show,” she said. “In fact, one of them may be the killer.”

For some, this sounds like heaven on Earth. For others, however, it might sound like the ninth circle of hell, which is why Myers limits guest participants to one per table.

Another way to enjoy Whodunit is by booking a private show, which can be done at one of the regular performance venues or in a guest’s home, provided there is a relatively roomy dining room and, ideally, a 4-foot by 6-foot area to use as a stage.

Myers said shows can be staged for as few as 15 or as many as 100 people.

Expanding mystery

Myers estimates that, over the years, around 25,000 guests have seen Whodunit’s public and private performances, which have featured between 500 and 750 local actors.

“Our shows change with every performance,” she said.

As those in a true repertory theater group, each actor plays up to three roles.

“We are one of the only improv theaters in the state, and our actors really love getting to sharpen their skills,” Myers said.

Those actors include Jon Haque and Lucas Ross.

Ross co-hosted the Rise and Shine Oklahoma TV show and starred as the ever-bumbling Donnie in a series of commercials for a local car dealership. He also interned on 25 episodes of the sitcom That ’70s Show, 18 episodes of The Tracy Morgan Show and 13 episodes of Grounded for Life. Emmy-winning Haque is business director for Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre (CityRep) and is a member of okc.BIZ and Oklahoma Gazette’s Forty Under 40 class of 2015.

There are several theater shows in production. They typically are held on Friday nights once or twice per month at Cattlemen’s and Ted’s, and there are less frequent performances at The Grandison Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in Oklahoma City’s Midtown district. Whodunit also performs an annual Valentine’s Day show.

Learn more at whodunit.net.

Print headline: Murderous delight, Whodunit Dinner Theater celebrates a quarter century. 

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