Slapstick whodunit brings classic film energy to Pellissippi State stage

Promotional poster for The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940Live theatre returns to Pellissippi State Community College this November in a play the director calls “one-third screwball comedy, one-third murder mystery and one-third farce.” 

“The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940” by John Bishop will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays Nov. 5-6 and Nov. 12-13, as well as at 2 p.m. Sundays Nov. 7 and 14. 

Capacity in the Clayton Performing Arts Center on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus is capped at 250 for each show to allow for social distancing, and audience members will be required to wear masks. 

“Coming off what has been a very difficult year, I wanted to choose something light, fluffy and fun that would make people laugh,” said Theatre Professor Charles Miller, who is directing the play. “We all need some laughter right now.” 

It’s the first live theatre performance at Pellissippi State since 2019, as the college’s Theatre program shifted to radio plays in fall 2020 and a livestreamed performance in spring 2021, due to the pandemic. Sixteen Pellissippi State Theatre students and recent graduates have roles on stage, backstage or as part of the production crew. 

“Comedy is very difficult to do, and we hadn’t done one in a while, so this is a good opportunity for our students to learn,” Miller said. “There are a lot of things I’m trying to teach them – physical comedy, punchlines, throwaway lines. It’s not easy to teach, and it’s not easy to perform.” 

“The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940” opened on Broadway in 1987 and features blizzard conditions, secret passageways and an isolated mansion in a slapstick whodunit. To prepare for the play, students were assigned to watch black-and-white films from that era, including “Bringing Up Baby” starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant and “The Hound of the Baskervilles” starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. 

“There are references you’ll get if you watch old movies,” Miller noted, who added that the play is similar to the popular 1985 movie “Clue,” “but crazier.” 

Tickets are free, but please obtain one at, as seating is limited to half capacity due to COVID-19.  

To request accommodations for a disability at any campus event, call 865-539-7401 or email