Joseph F. Berenato
SJA to present murder-mystery dinner
On May 21 and 22, St. Joseph Academy (SJA) will be presenting Bill Hand’s Murder on the Menu in the media center of the school, located at 328 Vine St.
“It’s a murder-mystery dinner theater ... We decided to do that this year, due to COVID restrictions, and not having an auditorium. Mimi [Vaccarella] and I run the performing arts group here, and we threw this idea out to them about doing a murder-mystery dinner theater, and they liked the idea and it kind of took off from there,” said Joan Morsa, who is directing the production along with Vaccarella.
Morsa said that, for the first year of SJA’s performing arts club, they have a really talented, dedicated group of students here that really, really wanted to do something.”
“They missed out on a lot last year because of the pandemic, and we didn’t want them to miss out on anything. That’s why Mimi and I said that we had to do something, even if it was something small—and this turned into being not so small,” Morsa said.
Morsa said that the show will be an interactive murder-mystery.
“The cast members will interact with the audience at times. It’s got a lot of comedy to it, and these kids have brought a lot of their own to it and made it their own. We took a script, and we’re following the script, but they’re really bringing their characters alive,” Morsa said.
The production will include an actual dinner, with items like chicken parmigiana, baked ziti and sausage and peppers.
“We’re having two of our moms that do large events who are taking care of all the food. They’ve done several events before. We’ll be setting up two stations, buffet-style. We’ll have about 20 tables in here for 160 people max. It’s a true interactive experience, because, when they come in, it will be like going to a host stand, being seated at a table. All the actors stay in character the entire time, all throughout the meal,” Vaccarella said.
“They’re in character from the time the doors open until the time the people leave. We’re going to have other students from other clubs that are in the school that have volunteered to come in and serve the food and act as the host and hostess for the night,” Morsa said.
Morsa, who also runs Hammonton Town Drama, said that she first encountered this play during Christmas break.
“We used a company called Pioneer Drama. It’s a little theater company, and they have different types of plays. We did one of their Christmas plays, and we found this in there,” Morsa said.
Morsa described Murder on the Menu as a “whodunit” that thrives on audience participation.
“At the end, the audience members will be given cards to vote on who they think did this. Then, we’ll take all the correct answers and put them in a basket or something, and we’ll choose a winner—and there’ll be a prize,” Morsa said.
Morsa said that the show’s cast of eight students is doing well.
“They’re having a good time with it. I think they’re a little bit hyper, because it’s getting close to the end, but I think they’re enjoying it. They’ve worked very hard. They’ve been working on this since January. A lot of them play other sports, like football and softball and wrestling and golf; they have other activities that are going on besides their schoolwork and this, so we’re happy that we have the group that we have,” Morsa said.
Senior Bobby Crimi plays Major in the production, and he said that he is “excited for what this is becoming.”
“We’re lucky enough to even have any kind of show, with COVID and everything, and, especially for my senior year with this little group, we’re all close-knit and really good together. I feel like this is going to be a great show,” Crimi said.
Sophomore Ava Way, who plays Eileen Morrow, concurred.
“We all get along really well. I’m having a lot of fun with it. We do a lot of improv with this show, which is something that I’ve never really done before, but it makes it a lot more fun. Everyone’s really getting into their characters now, and it’s a good time,” Way said.
Freshman Connor Perri, casts in the role of Reginald Ward, said that the show has been a great experience with the entire cast.
“I never thought I’d have these friendships. I enjoy it ... Come see it. We’ve all been working so hard, and I think it’s going to be an amazing show,” Perri said.
Vaccarella said that the entire school feels the same way.
“We’ve had a lot of cooperation by the administration, the faculty and the board. They’re really excited about putting this production on and gave us all the support that we need. Working with this group of students—these actors—has been a great experience for us and them. They’re learning a lot, and we’re really excited about putting this on. Things are opening up now, and we’re excited for people to see what SJA has to offer in terms of theater,” Vaccarella said.
Morsa said that she hopes that Murder on the Menu will help to show that SJA is “a thriving place.”
“It’s a great place to be, and we want people to come out and see what our students can do,” Morsa said.
Murder on the Menu will be performed on May 21 and May 22. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the show will start at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $30 per person, $50 per couple or $200 for a table that seats eight. Tickets are available online.