Murder Mystery Dinner Theater Comes to Jersey City, ’80’s Style

Did you ever want to tease your hair, don neon spandex and solve a murder while eating dinner? Well now you can. The Murder Mystery Company has expanded to Jersey City and its current show, called “Totally 80’s, Totally Murder,” is guaranteed to be “awesomely tubular.” Dressing up is encouraged.

The show starts with being greeted by Johnny Diamond, dressed in a polyester suit with an Afro and giant sunglasses, who checks reservations. During the salad course, actors walk around the room and assign characters to one person at each table, which becomes your team. You work together to solve the murder and get a prize. I was approached by Poison Rattenstein, a Russell Brand look-alike who wore a 3-foot long, bleach-blond wig and said to me, “Excuse me, but you look like my new girlfriend.” He handed me my costume, which consisted of a floppy hat covered in sequins and sunglasses with frames like hands. My new identity as a suspect was “Cindy Leapyear, Rocker Chick.” I was his girlfriend for the rest of the night. Other characters included Slick Douglas, a Wall Street tycoon, Mystery Specialgrass, a hippie, and Annie Fannie, an 8-year-old kid. Two people died during the show.

I was handed a binder that had rules, instructions and goals that my character of Cindy Leapyear was expected to perform. I also had secrets. I had to introduce myself, and occasionally get interviewed by the host Johnny Diamond, or the detective. If asked a question, I had to answer truthfully to my character. During “investigation time,” which was between acts and courses, the suspects interacted with each other and the actors, trying to gather clues and information to relay to their respective teams. One of the awards given out at the end was “Best Actor,” and plenty of audience participants found themselves competitively overacting, which enhanced the kitschy atmosphere and added to the campy fun.

Caliph Scott, the director and Johnny Diamond, says, “My favorite thing about our show is that you can solve the crime. It’s not a guessing game. Murder is about two things: motivation and opportunity. There will be many characters in the room that have one or the other but only one person has both. If your team finds the person that has both… then your team has found the killer!”

The Murder Mystery Company currently has hubs in 12 cities. It has several shows in its arsenal, including the time-period shows 50’s, 20’s, and soon, the ’30’s. There are also theme shows, including a masquerade and a pirate-themed show. Nationally, the company has 400 members. The East Coast troupe has a 25-actor rotation, currently
auditioning more in preparation for the busy season, September through February, when there’s a high volume of corporate events and private parties.

Scott, who’s been acting his entire life, moved from Ohio where he was a director to expand the show to New York and New Jersey. Currently living in Bayonne, he decided that if he was going to live in Jersey, he might as well do the show in Jersey too. He enlisted Christopher Cordell, a good friend, to move from Ohio to become Assistant Director, and also to play Jerri Attrick, the drag queen host of the 80’s show. The New Jersey company, which only has three people, is rounded out by Louis J. Esposito, who plays rock star Poison Rattenstein, and also travels two hours every weekend from Manahawkin and stays with Scott during the weekend runs.

Scott says, “The thing I like most about being a part of Murder Mystery Company is that it is entrepreneurship at its best. It’s hard work meets trial and error. It represents the will for people to find a solution. I’ve gone out on New York blizzards, shoveled for hours, then drove to Pennsylvania for a show. I’ve done a show in Springfield, Ohio, drove through the night and performed solos shows in New York City the following day. Our Murders know what it takes to get a job done and they do it! And when you are working with people that have that attitude, the shows are so much fun!”

This is the second show that Murder Mystery Co. is doing in Jersey City. The first, “Till Death Do Us Part,” a wedding-themed mystery, ran from February to the beginning of June. “Totally ‘80’s” started the following week, on June 8th, and will run until the end of August. As for future plans, Scott says, “Who knows? Maybe our mobsters’ ‘Crime and Punishment.’ Maybe our Western ‘Wanted Dead or Alive.’”

Interestingly, the show is held at Sanai’s restaurant, which is owned by L. Terry Dehere, a retired NBA player and community activist. Sanai’s is housed in Jersey City’s oldest building, the Newkirk House, also known as the Summit House. It was erected around 1690 near the Dutch settlement at Bergen Square.

The show runs Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, with a matinee on Saturday at 2 pm. Tickets are $60, with various discounts and deals that can be applied. It includes a three-course meal at Sanai’s, which is located at 510 Summit Ave. The show is two-hours long, interactive, and awards are given out to audience member participants.

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Photos by Jennifer Weiss


a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Jersey City Independent. She's also a comedian who was born and raised in Jersey City, a Fiction MFA candidate at the New School and drinks way too much beer.