Charming ‘Catch’ Could Use a Charge

At sixteen, Frank Abagnale, Jr. began the path to becoming one of the greatest con men of all time.  Posing as a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer, he bilked the country out of nearly $2,000,000.  Finally cornered by the dogged FBI agent determined to capture him, Abagnale decides to tell (and sing) his story in Catch Me If You Can:  The Musical by Terrence McNally with music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.  It is currently playing at the Bellevue Little Theatre.

McNally’s script is a mixed bag.  It does a fine job of highlighting Abagnale’s life and his most notable impostures and I think sharing this might have been enough as his life had enough drama and natural humor for a great story.  Where the script falters is when it tries to needlessly force humor into the story such as making the FBI agents with the exception of Hanratty seem like inept fools.  Kudos to Matt Karasek, Randy Wallace, and Jackson Hal Cottrell for a superb job of playing the characters as written.

D. Laureen Pickle does an admirable job of directing this piece. The staging is well done, seeming more like a sixties sitcom and full performance space is used in telling this story. She found some great beats to add some heart to this story especially in the conversations between Abagnale and his father and she has guided her actors to solid and moving performances.

The ensemble does fine work supporting this story as they were clearly enjoying themselves and really helped to flesh out crowd scenes and provide some snappy dancing courtesy of inventive choreography provided by Kerri Jo Watts and Eastin Yates.  That being said, I did note a couple of points where the execution of the dancing needed to be a bit cleaner.

Some great supporting performances are provided by Kevin Olsen as Frank Abagnale, Sr. who was a minor league con man that taught Junior everything he needed to know about running a scam.  Olsen’s Abagnale, Sr. is quite pitiable as the purpose for his cons is simply to provide a better life for his family, though he does seem to derive a pleasure out of outsmarting the government.  Heather Wilhem is marvelously entertaining as an Atlanta housewife who is quite taken with the smooth Abagnale, Jr. who wishes to marry her daughter.

Thomas Stoysich gives a rather entertaining performance as Frank Abagnale, Jr.  He is a very likable and charming person and these traits are crucial to being a good con artist.  Stoysich is so darn likable that you don’t want to believe that he’s really a crook.  Stoysich also adds a remarkable emotional depth to the performance as he portrays Abagnale’s con artistry as a compulsion.  He can’t seem to help himself.  Stoysich does good work in showing the three reasons why Abagnale does what he does:  1.  He’s trying to survive.  2.  He hopes to earn enough to reunite his broken family.  3.  It’s fun.

Stoysich also has a very pleasant tenor voice which was well utilized in “Live in Living Color” and his attempt to end Abagnale’s story prematurely in “Goodbye”.

Eric Micks is rock solid as Carl Hanratty, Abagnale’s determined pursuer.  This is a man who is completely dedicated to his job and that came at the cost of his own family.  Micks gives Hanratty intelligence and tenacity, but he also gives him a haunting loneliness.  The job is all he has, even spending the holidays by himself except for an annual phone call from Abagnale with whom he shares a sort of friendship in spite of their adversarial relationship.  Micks also possesses a fine baritone shown when he tries to discover “The Man Inside the Clues” as he investigates the crimes of Abagnale.

Chris Ebke and his orchestra do justice to the score of the show with an energetic performance.  Nancy Buennemeyer’s costumes suit the sixties settings especially with the pilot and flight attendant uniforms of the time as well as the elegant clothes for Abagnale and the rumpled suit for Hanratty.  Joey Lorincz does it again with another stellar set with a stairway lit by runner lights and a pair of revolving doors for speedy entrances and exits while locales are projected behind the stairs.

This show badly needed doses of energy and volume last night.  The volume was especially important with the orchestra situated behind the cast as I lost bits of dialogue at various points.  There also seemed to be something up with the microphones as they didn’t seem to work except for a brief burst towards the end of Act I.  Part of the energy issue came from an audience not giving the cast much to work with.  In a show like this, the cast needs the fuel supplied by a lively crowd to further heighten their own performances.  Cue pickups could also be tightened to help the energy.

When all is said and done Catch Me If You Can is a slightly surreal telling of Abagnale’s story.  It’s got the potential to be a great crowd pleaser thanks to a talented crew and a spritely orchestra and a “Strange But True” story.

Catch Me If You Can:  The Musical plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through Sept 29.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $10 for students.  Tickets can be obtained at bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com or calling 402-291-1554.  Some discretion is advised due to some strong language and suggestive moments.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

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The Game is Askew

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are called in to investigate the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville and to protect his heir, Henry Baskerville, when he receives an ominous warning to stay away from the moor.  Is there a human hand guiding this evil or is there truth to the curse of the Hound of the Baskervilles?  Find out when you watch Baskerville by Ken Ludwig and currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.

I had been looking forward to this show all season.  Hearing the name “Sherlock Holmes” is like ringing the chow bell as I’ve been an avid reader of these mysteries since childhood.  As a result of this, I admit to being a bit biased when it comes to Holmesian entertainment.  But that bias takes the form of having rigorous standards whenever I watch a Holmesian production or read a Holmesian story.  With that being said, I am pleased to say that Ludwig’s take on this classic tale more than meets my standards.  It’s almost completely faithful to the original story and manages to add its own unique flavor with a high dose of farcical humor well executed by a contingent of comedic clowns.

Suzanne Withem is the ringmaster of this circus and she stages it as a classic Vaudeville production with a bare-bones set.  Her direction is sterling as she never allows the energy to wane and she knows how to mine the funny out of the production with a series of well-timed jokes and fourth wall breaking moments.  Ms Withem leads her actors to strong, brilliant performances with a pell mell telling of this mystery.

I salute the superhuman efforts of the 3 actors of the play (Kevin Goshorn, Sara Scheidies, and Guillermo Joseph Rosas) as they rotate between playing nearly 20 different characters requiring complete shifts in costume, body language, accents, and voice to portray the numerous roles.  Some examples of their stellar work are Goshorn’s highly Texan Henry Baskerville, his obnoxiously crude Inspector Lestrade who constantly hocks loogies and scratches his behind, and a hilarious cameo as a charwoman cleaning 221B Baker St; Ms Scheidies’ overwrought Mrs. Barrymore who overgestures and oddly shuffles her feet, her busybodying Mrs. Hudson, or her energetic Cartwright, one of Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars; Rosas shines as the Baskerville butler, Barrymore who has a permanently stooped posture and a wonky back; the giddy naturalist, Stapleton who has an affinity for butterflies, and a proud Castillian concierge of the Northumberland Hotel.

I’d also like to applaud the work of the roustabouts, Kaitlin Maher and Gillian Pearson, who add their own humorous touches as they bring on props, make sound effects, and sometimes are the props.

Catherine Vazquez’s Dr. Watson is the show’s straight man and narrator.  She does a wonderful job exhibiting Watson’s stalwart loyalty to Holmes, his courage under fire, and his own keen intellect, though his powers of observation and deduction are far less pronounced than those of Holmes.  She does need to project a bit more to overcome BLT’s backbox nature.  Unlike the other characters, Watson needs to be the most grounded, which Ms Vazquez certainly was, but I think she still had some leeway to elevate his energy a bit.

Ben Beck is a pitch perfect Sherlock Holmes.  Not only does he well exude Holmes’ rude, unfriendly nature, but he also well communicates Holmes’ manic energy when the thrill of an investigation is on him.  Beck well handles Holmes’ complex dialogue as he often speaks in almost stream of consciousness cadences as he makes his rapid-fire deductions. And I was particularly impressed with how quickly he was able to transition from being Holmes to being the actor playing Holmes when miscues and other errors sprang up to throw off the Vaudeville troupe.

Brendan Greene-Wash has skillfully designed a cheap looking set of cutout woods and boxes that look like they could be packed up and whisked to the next town on a moment’s notice.  Zachary Kloppenborg’s costumes are spot-on and quite elegant from Holmes’ dressing gown, to Watson’s sharp suits, to the Texan garb of Henry Baskerville, the buttling suit of Barrymore, and the raggedy clothes of the Irregulars.  Joshua Mullady’s lights always enhance any production with the eerie ghostly lights used in the story of the curse of the Baskervilles to the shadowy night scenes in Baskerville Hall.

I thought I saw a few blips such as fading or dropped accents and the mixing of pronouns in regards to Watson, but as the show is presented as a troupe doing a production of The Hound of the Baskervilles, I can’t help but wonder if these “blips” were more subtle jokes to tie into the show’s running gag of little things going wrong here and there.  In any case, Baskerville is an extremely satisfying romp that does justice to a classic Holmes mystery while making bellies jiggle with laughter.

Baskerville plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through May 19.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Fri-Sat and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, and $10 for students.  Reservations can be made by calling 402-291-1554 or visiting the web page at bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

The Game Will be Afoot at BLT

BELLEVUE LITTLE THEATRE PRESENTS
“BASKERVILLE” AUDITIONS

Saturday, February 9, 2019 @ 1:00 – 4:00 pm
Sunday, February 10, 2019 @ 1:00 – 4:00 pm

Interested parties need only attend one day of auditions, so please feel free to select the date that is most convenient for you.

Actors should come prepared to move (not dance), demonstrate a variety of accents and dialects, and read from the script.

Please bring a resume and head shot if you have them and a list of conflicts between March 18 and May 19. Excessive conflicts and conflicts after April 19 may affect casting decisions.

Callbacks: Sunday, February 17
Rehearsals will begin February 18 (evenings and weekends)
Performance Dates: May 3 – 19, 2019
Performances are Fri., Sat. evenings at 7:30 and Sunday afternoons at 2 pm.

Questions? Contact Director, Suzanne Withem at suzannewithem@gmail.com

“Baskerville,” by Ken Ludwig, is a comedic retelling of “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” the classic Sherlock Holmes mystery written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In Ludwig’s version, three actors play nearly 40 supporting characters to the leads, Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Actors of all genders will be considered for all roles, and actors of any gender, race, or ethnicity who are 18 or older are encouraged to audition. All actors will utilize various dialects, but a strong standard British dialect is required.

Characters:
* Sherlock Holmes: (any age; any gender) The world’s greatest detective is sophisticated, quick-witted, and passionate. He is an English gentleman who is very precise in speech and manner. This actor plays only one role.
* Dr. John Watson: (any age; any gender) A kind amiable doctor and Sherlock Holmes’s faithful sidekick. A man of action, intellect and deep emotion. He is also very British.
* Actor 1: (any age; any gender) Plays more than a dozen characters – primarily the villains and baddies. Must be a versatile character actor adept a physical comedy and various accents and dialects.
* Actor 2: (any age; any gender – though likely male identifying) Plays nearly a dozen characters – primarily heroes and gentlemen. Must be a versatile character actor adept a physical comedy and various accents and dialects.
* Actor 3: (any age; any gender – though likely female identifying) Plays more than a dozen characters – primarily maids, nurses, and damsels in distress. Must be a versatile character actor adept a physical comedy and various accents and dialects and willing to challenge traditional gender roles.
* Roustabouts and Foley Artists: (any age; any gender) – These two or three nonspeaking roles will be cast and treated as members of the acting company. They will assist with scene changes, participate in comedy bits, and serve as Foley artists providing live sound effects for the production from onstage. They should be creative problems solvers adept at physical comedy and familiar with silent storytelling. They are vital to the success of keeping the “trunk show” design of the production moving forward and creating the world of the theatre in which the play is performed.

The Bellevue Little Theatre, an all volunteer organization, maintains an “equal opportunity” policy for volunteer recruitment of both board and production positions. Auditions are open to the general public, with the same “equal opportunity” policy. All roles are open for audition except an occasional role is precast and is so noted in the audition notice.

Location:  203 W Mission Ave, Bellevue, NE

BLT Announces Auditions for “Arsenic and Old Lace”

Bellevue Little Theatre presents
Arsenic & Old Lace Auditions

Sunday, November 11 @ 7:00 PM
Monday, November 12 @ 7:00 PM

Location:  203 W Mission Ave, Bellevue, NE

Interested parties need only attend one evening of auditions, so please feel free to select the date that is most convenient for you. Those auditioning will be asked to read sections from the script. These will be provided at auditions.

Actors should bring:
• All contact information, personal schedules and a list of rehearsal conflicts to complete the audition form.
• A recent photo to attach to audition form. Photos do not need to be professional and will not be returned. Should you not have a photo, one will be taken at the time of the audition.
Casting decisions will be completed and all parties notified no later than Sunday, September 16th.

Rehearsals: expected to begin in late November
Performance Dates: January 18-February 3, 2019
Performances are Fri., Sat. evenings at 7:30 and Sunday afternoons at 2 pm.

Mortimer Brewster is living a happy life: he has a steady job at a prominent New York newspaper, he’s just become engaged, and he gets to visit his sweet spinster aunts to announce the engagement. Mortimer always knew that his family had a bit of a mad gene — his brother believes himself to be Teddy Roosevelt and his great-grandfather used to scalp Indians for pleasure — but his world is turned upside down when he realizes that his dear aunts have been poisoning lonely old men for years! When Mortimer’s maniacal brother, Jonathan. (who strangely now resembles Boris Karloff) returns on the night that the aunts were planning to bury the newest victim, Mortimer must rally to help his aunts and protect his fiancé — all while trying to keep his own sanity. as well. An uproarious farce on plays involving murder, Arsenic and Old Lace has become a favorite.
Todd Uhrmacher will be director for this classic.

Adults are required for this production. Cast requirements are as follows.  For information contact the director at uhrmne@gmail.com.

Available Roles:
* Abby Brewster: A sweet caring old lady who is loved by all. She has a Victorian charm and grace about her. Her way of helping could also be considered– murder. Very old-fashioned in an ironic way. (55-75)
* Martha Brewster: A sweet caring old lady who is loved by all. She has a Victorian charm and grace about her. Her way of helping could also be considered–murder. Very old-fashioned in an ironic way. (55-75)
* Elaine Harper: A sweet young lady who knows what she wants. She is in love with Mortimer and she is not about to let him talk her out of their engagement. (18-25)
* Mortimer Brewster: A young theatre critic who has a bunch of crazy people in his family tree. He himself is afraid of becoming crazy as well as what may happen if people find out about the skeletons in his families cellar. (25-30)
* Teddy Brewster: A bit on the crazy side; Teddy Brewster thinks that he is president teddy Roosevelt. He buries all of Martha and Abby’s “gentlemen” in the basement. (25-35)
* Jonathan Brewster: He was troubled as a child and is even more so as an adult. He has escaped from a mental institution and has murdered multiple people. In order to hide from the law Johnny has had to turn to plastic surgery to alter his face, leaving him disfigured. (30-40)
* Dr. Einstein: A plastic surgeon who is often drinking. He has also escaped from a mental institution. He has a German accent (30-50)
* The Rev. Dr Harper: A protective father to Elaine. (40-60)
* Mr. Gibbs: A nice elderly man who lives alone and has no family. (60-70)
* Officer O’Hera: A officer who doesn’t really want to be an officer. He wants to write plays and is eager to tell the renowned critique Mortimer about his plot. He’s not very good at reading the room or knowing when now is not a good time. (20- 40) (This character may be male or female.)
* Officer Brophy: An officer of the law who is likable but maybe not the brightest man on the force. (20-40) (This character may be male or female.)
* Officer Klein: Another officer of the law who is likable but maybe not the brightest man on the force. (20-40) (This character may be male or female.)
* Lieutenant Rooney: All bronze and no brain. An officer of the law. (20-40) (This character may be male or female.)
* Mr. Witherspoon: Superintendent of Happy Dale sanitarium. (40-60) (This character may be male or female.)

The Bellevue Little Theatre, an all volunteer organization, maintains an “equal opportunity” policy for volunteer recruitment of both board and production positions. Auditions are open to the general public, with the same “equal opportunity” policy. All roles are open for audition except an occasional role is precast and is so noted in the audition notice.

Not Quite Perfect Yet

On the day of his wedding, Bill wakes up with a monstrous hangover, slightly concussed, and in bed with a woman who isn’t his fiancée.  A series of shenanigans, misunderstandings, and schemes unfold in an attempt to keep his fiancée from learning the truth.  Will there still be a Perfect Wedding by Robin Hawdon and currently playing at the Bellevue Little Theatre?

Personally I found Hawdon’s script to be a laugh riot.  He has an instinctive understanding of classic farce complete with the impossible situation, desperate attempts to solve said situation, slamming doors, and over the top characters.  Hawdon’s story actually takes things one step further with an ending that wasn’t entirely predictable and had some surprisingly sweet moments as well.

The hand of capable leadership is present in this production with the direction of Marya Lucca-Thyberg.  She definitely understands the art of the character as her actors definitely have distinctive personas.  She also has a good feeling for the more creative side of farce as she conjured up several amusing bits of business.

Thomas Stoysich has a very worthy debut at the Bellevue Little Theatre with his portrayal of Bill.  Stoysich does a pretty good job of making Bill likable despite the fact that he’s not all that likable of a person.  However, I consider that crucial to this character because Bill’s actions are governed by a weight he is carrying on this shoulders.  So he’s not a bad person, just a little soiled.

Stoysich has excellent, crystal clear facial expressions and reactions and manages to tap into the needed broadness for his character.  However, his panickyness and nervousness also seemed to strike the same note and I think there was space to maintain the attitude, but change up the pitch as it were.

Kaitlin Maher gives a spot-on performance as Rachel, Bill’s fiancée.  Ms Maher has a commanding presence and is truly the rock in her relationship with Bill.  Clearly she has to be the more level headed half as Bill is rather flighty.  She’s honest, strong, caring, and obviously deserves a lot better than Bill.

Jessica Mascarello serves as a good counterpoint to Rachel with her essaying of Judy.  Where Rachel is strong and direct, Ms Mascarello’s Judy is weak and sneaky.  Like Bill, she’s more soiled than bad, but she ends up being the other woman with her eyes wide open as opposed to being smashed like Bill.  Ms Mascarello still manages to conjure up a degree of sympathy with her ability to project her disillusionment with love which is what fuels her character.  Ms Mascarello also has a knack for physical comedy as she got to take part in some of the best sight gags.

Farce needs a strong rapid-fire energy and that was missing in the afternoon’s production.  Pacing needed to be much brisker and cue pickups needed to be much sharper.  Accents and acting were also a bit of a mixed bag.

The technical aspects of the production were quite potent.  Taelore Stearns has constructed an excellent old-fashioned inn with doors aplenty for chases and slamming.  Joshua Christie’s sound design was quite clever with a series of Tom Jones’ love songs.  Nancy Buennemeyer’s costuming was well done especially with Rachel’s beautiful wedding gown and the elegant kilts of Bill and his best man, Tom.

This show is assuredly on the right path to being a rock solid laugher.  A little more speed and a little tightening of delivery will permit this cast to maximize everything this entertaining script has to offer.

Perfect Wedding plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through May 20.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and 2pm on Sundays.  Tickets prices are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, and $10 for students with valid ID.  For tickets, contact 402-291-1554 between 10am-4pm, Mon-Fri.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

The Spirits are Restless

In an attempt to learn “the tricks of the trade” for a new book, novelist Charles Condomine takes part in a séance conducted by the eccentric Madame Arcati who inadvertently summons the spirit of Charles’ late wife, Elvira.  The trouble is that Charles has remarried and now he’s literally caught between two worlds as each wife wants him for herself.  This is Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward and currently playing at the Bellevue Little Theatre.

I was a little surprised to learn that this play was actually written in the early 1940s because it has the feel of a 1920s play with its drawing room style of writing.  While Coward’s idea is a gem, this play was definitely a play for its time or earlier due to its incredibly talky nature.  Plays of this type require colossal amounts of energy to keep the interest of today’s audiences and credit is due to the cast of BLT’s production for mustering all of the positives possible out of the show.

Todd Uhrmacher provides a solid bit of direction for this show.  He has a good instinct for movement and has his performers continually animate the scenes which helps liven up the massive amount of dialogue supplied by the characters.  He’s also coached his actors well.  Each and all give well defined, focused performances.

Strong supporting performances are provided by Sherry Fletcher as Edith, a maid who has to physically keep herself from rushing throughout the house and who is more than she seems and by Ruth Rath as the daffy Madame Arcati.  Ms Rath has definitely picked up on Madame Arcati’s weirdness and I think she has a bit of room to make her peculiarities even more pronounced.

Gene Hinkle is very, very British as Charles Condomine.  Epitomizing the British ideal of having a stiff, upper lip, Hinkle’s Charles could teach a masterclass in patience and control as he always has a tight grip on his emotions even when his world gets turned upside down by Elvira’s return.  Hinkle cuts a very elegant figure with a strong well modulated voice that makes for an ideal Charles.  But I thought his performance could have been even funnier if he would have lost some of that incredible control when his world began falling to pieces.

Therese Rennels makes for a beautifully understated shrew as Elvira.  Ms Rennels strikes the perfect tone of snide with Elvira’s interactions with Charles and blithely snaps off verbal ripostes in her “conversations” (only Charles can actually see or hear her) with other characters.  Her Elvira is an incredibly selfish individual.  It’s always about her and her wants even when what she wants isn’t really what she wants.  Ms Rennels also has a good sense of pantomime as she rattles off a series of amusing gestures to the characters that can’t see or hear her.

I found Marti Carrington to be the most amusing character of the night with her rendition of Ruth, Charles’ current wife.  Like her husband, Ms Carrington’s Ruth is the very, very proper and stoic British woman, but Ms Carrington brings a vital and needed energy when Ruth begins to collapse in the second act due to Elvira’s machinations and disruptions.  Ms Carrington melts into a hysterical, weeping mess while never letting Ruth’s disintegration go overboard.

Energy is truly what the show needed last night as the sheer bulk of dialogue can be wearying to both cast and audience alike.  A brisker pace and tighter cue pickups would greatly aid in maximizing the show’s comedy.

The technical elements were quite strong.  A Joey Lorincz set is always one of the highlights of a BLT production and this is no exception with the gorgeous sitting room of the Condomine estate with its massive crackling fireplace, wood bookcase, and understated elegance of the furniture.  Todd Uhrmacher’s costumes evoke wealth and class.  I also thought the special effects of spectral paintings and flying knick knacks were exceptional.

This show’s style is going to require a bit of patience on the part of the audience.  The idea is genuinely humorous, the script does have some good zingers and a few twists and surprises, but it takes its time getting there.  But a strong group of performers (with a splash of more energy) will help audiences reach the payoff.

Blithe Spirit continues at Bellevue Little Theatre until Feb 4.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and 2pm on Sundays.  Tickets prices are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, and $10 for students with valid ID.  For tickets, contact 402-291-1554 between 10am-4pm, Mon-Fri.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

Ho Ho Homicide: Mont Rest & Bellevue, IA

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Mont Rest Bed and Breakfast

Ah, Christmas!  Without question it is my favorite time of the year.  I love the feelings of goodwill, the sense of family, the music, the decorations, going to church, the lights, everything.  I also especially enjoy visiting bed and breakfasts during the holiday season just to see how they ring in the holidays.  So, it is with great pleasure that I bring to you the tale of my 5th annual Christmas B & B review.

For this journey, I would be visiting Iowa’s most luxurious inn, Mont Rest Bed and Breakfast of Bellevue, IA, owned by Christine Zraick.  I had been looking forward to this inn for quite a long time due to its penchant for offering nearly weekly murder mystery events.  When I found out the inn also really enjoys going all out for Christmas, I finally booked the trip.

Mont Rest has a very interesting history.  It was built in 1893 by Seth Luellyn Baker, a wealthy land developer for the price of $6,000.  Nicknamed “The Castle”, Mont Rest soon developed a reputation for illegal high stakes poker games.  His passion for poker would end up biting Baker hard as he once put the deed to Mont Rest up against a doctor for a $6,000 pot.  After the hand, Baker went downstairs and told his wife they had 2 weeks to vacate the property.

Fast forward to 1986, when the property, long since dilapidated and falling to pieces, was purchased by its current owner, Christine Zraick.  She began the long arduous process of refurbishing it back to its Victorian glory and opening it as a country inn.  It soon developed a stellar reputation for its murder mystery parties.

On Dec 24, 1996, the tale of Mont Rest almost came to an end when a devastating fire broke out and gutted the house from top to bottom.  Christine almost threw in the towel, but support from the citizens of Bellevue and her own sense of stewardship compelled her to roll up her sleeves and begin the process of rebuilding Mont Rest in the spring of 1997.

Needless to say, it was a massive success and today Mont Rest stands as Iowa’s most luxurious inn.

I was truly blessed with some unseasonably beautiful weather for my long trek to Bellevue.  When I arrived in town, I was immediately struck by its quaintness.  It is a peaceful town right on the coast of the Mississippi River.

I readily found the inn where my eyes confirmed what the photos had suggested.  This was easily the biggest inn I had ever seen.  The nickname of “The Castle” was well suited as the inn stands alone on top of a large hill and takes up the equivalent of a city block or two and holds an astonishing 13 bedrooms.

As I made the way from my car to the large wraparound porch, I smiled at the visage of Jolly old Saint Nick meeting me on the porch.  The inn was already into the spirit of Christmas as tinsel decorated the porch and decorations were being set up in the front yard.

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The kindly staff warmly welcomed me inside and gave me the nickel tour culminating in a stop at the gift shop which holds a representation of the World’s Fair complete with lights, sound, and animation.

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From there, I was led to Ginny’s Woodlawn View, my base of operations for the next few days.

When I think of B & B rooms, Ginny’s Woodlawn View is what springs to mind.  It has an understated elegance with its soft, blue-green carpet, electric wood fireplace, and Jacuzzi bathtub.  With Christmas on the horizon, it even had a lovely little Christmas tree and a stocking hung by the chimney with care.

From there, I did my normal explorations which took a little longer than normal.  As I said, this mansion is huge.  One could easily get lost in here.  I wandered about the house enjoying the numerous Christmas trees and decorations littered throughout the home.  The inn even has an observation deck on the top of the home which holds a hot tub as well as magnificent views of Bellevue and the Mississippi.

I had very little time to get settled in as I had a heavy night of activities planned.  Within an hour of my arrival, I was already back on the road seeking an early dinner.  I opted for a little good old fashioned comfort food as I stopped at Richman’s Café.

Like the name suggests, it’s a quiet little diner, but it dishes up a mean patty melt and shoestring fries.  Having the cavity filled, I was then off to the nearby town of Dubuque, IA to begin my night’s activities.

As I truly love holiday lighting displays, the staff at Mont Rest told me about Reflections in the Park, an elaborate display showcased at Louis Murphy Park.  This event has been a Christmas tradition for over two decades and I would like to thank the staff at the event for giving me a free pass to experience this tradition.

If you are in or near Dubuque during the holidays, visit Reflections in the Park.  It is a truly beautiful and entrancing display of lights and holiday cheer that will brighten your night both literally and emotionally.

From there, I went to the famed Grand Opera House of Dubuque where I took in a production of It’s a Wonderful Life.  For the first time in years, I attended this play purely as a patron, but was so moved and impressed by the production that I decided to review it anyway.  You can read it here.

After the fabulous show, I returned to Mont Rest when I settled into bed with a bone aching weariness where I instantly succumbed to oblivion.

In the morning, I took a long Jacuzzi bath before heading downstairs to breakfast.  There I met Doug & Pamela and Mark & Holly who would also be joining me for the murder mystery dinner later that night.  Breakfast at Mont Rest is served family style so we all enjoyed dishes of fruit along with a repast of blueberry muffins, cherry turnovers, bacon, hash browns, and 2 kinds of omelets along with some conversation.

Normally I like to schedule a lot of activities to get the full experience of the towns I visit.  This time I decided to put the brakes on.  After breakfast, I simply wrote my play review and organized my photos.  Then I took a very long walk along the riverside where I shared a phone conversation with my best friend and stopped in at Grandpa’s Parlor for a vanilla shake.  From there, I went back to inn, sampled some delicious homemade brownies, and caught a quick nap.

When I regained consciousness, I walked the few blocks to attend worship services at St Joseph’s Catholic Church.  After I got my praise on, I returned to the inn for the mystery.

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St Joseph Catholic Church

I went downstairs to the living room where I once again met Mark and Holly and began sharing conversation.  Shortly later, we were joined by Jim and Elizabeth and by Doug and Pamela a little after that.  As we talked, we were treated to some light hors d’ouevres of canapés, bacon wrapped water chestnuts, crackers, cheese, meats, and veggies.

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Mmm!! Hors d’ouevres.

We would take part in the mystery of Where There’s a Will, There’s Away.  We were assigned characters and told that one of us was a murderer, but that the murderer would be unaware of that fact.  A very intriguing twist on the mystery.

I picked the character of Dr. Benjamin Pike.  He was a very successful doctor who had grown bored with his work.  He had been the personal physician of the wealthy businessman for the past 10 years and was preparing to lead a UNICEF group funded by his friend to teach advanced medical techniques to the locals in South America.  Dr. Pike was connected to two other suspects:  the businessman’s widow, Marion, with whom he had an intense and instant dislike and Nurse Freda Moore with whom he’d had a brief fling.  Freda had taken the break-up quite badly and Pike had fired her hoping to put their relationship in the past by keeping her away.

The inn has costumes for the event and I was dressed in a tuxedo dress shirtt, black dress pants, a black vest, gray cravat, and white dinner jacket.  In my room were waiting my personal dress shoes and socks to complete the illusion.  As I read the dossier, I drew on my theatre background and decided Pike should be an arrogant, sharp tongued jerk, but tempered with a powerful sense of morality.

Once downstairs, we were met by Gloria Gottrocks, the queen of accessorizing, who furthered our outfits.  From Ms Gottrocks, I received a gray fedora, stethoscope, and organ transplant bag.  I don’t want to spoil the mystery, but I will say the key is to use your knowledge of the characters and their relationships to ferret out clues that point to the truth.

But the centerpiece of the event is the dinner.  I’d gladly do this again and again simply for the meal.  Our night began with a dinner salad with a berry vinaigrette dressing and some fluffy, buttery croissant rolls.  During the first course, Officer Ima Fuzz joined us and told us of the death of Arthur and to take our preparation orders.  Amazingly, all of us had ordered the Steak Lilli.

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Officer Ima Fuzz

As we discussed the case, the chef brought out the main course of Steak Lilli, butternut squash, and rice pilaf.  As I began to cut my medium steak, I noted how tender it was.  But after that first bite, I was in heaven.  Hands down, the very best steak I have ever tasted.  During the main course, Officer Fuzz came back with the autopsy report and pieces of evidence found at the scene of the crime and to take orders for dessert.

I opted for Death by Chocolate.  As I savored dessert, Officer Fuzz came back one more time to bring Arthur’s will to his lawyer.  We had the reading of the will, a final discussion, and then Officer Fuzz solved the crime.

It was truly a grand evening.  Once done, I got back into my civvies and shared some conversation with Pamela, Doug, Jim, and Elizabeth before retiring to my room for the evening.

This was the best sleep I had enjoyed in ages.  I rose early to begin writing and went down to breakfast at 9am where I met the usual crowd and we were joined by another couple, Steve & Sheryl.

Today’s meal consisted of fried potatoes (perhaps with some rosemary), a dish of fruit, sausage, and a quiche made of eggs, peppers, and mushrooms.  Again it was another fantastic meal made all the more memorable by great conversation.  Sadly, it all had to come to an end and we had to break up the group to go our separate ways.  This was the best group of people I had met at an inn and I hope to stay in touch and, God willing, I hope our paths cross again.

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Quiche, fried potatoes, sausage.

I had a feeling that this particular outing was going to be something special and my instincts were correct.  Mont Rest Inn is a must see experience and it gets my highest recommendation for a visit. If you want to experience a vintage B & B, then you need to go to Mont Rest. Naomi and Company are wonderful cooks and hostesses.  The inn is comfortable and beautiful.  There’s much to do in the area.  And there is a plethora of dining events to be enjoyed at the inn, though I certainly would recommend your taking part in a murder mystery.  This is an inn that I’m going to make a point of returning to at some point in the future.  They also know how to do Christmas right.

Until the next time, happy travels.