A black rose…

Welcome to Post Mortem!  This is where Master Mystery Productions looks back on the performance of its most recent show.

Spring is a time of renewal, rebirth, and reinvention.  Spring in the desert is one of our favorite times of year.  And at Master Mystery Productions, our spring shows become iconic masterpieces for the company and in our repertoire.  Think of Goodbye Hollywood or Bury Me in Paris.  Well, tradition still holds as, for Spring 2018, we presented our most ambitious and most lauded show yet: the murderous, musical masterpiece called Exit Prima Donna.

Photo by Kurt Moses Photography.

Masterpiece feels like just the right word to describe this show and venue.  With Marta Becket’s exquisite opera house, murals, and legacy guiding us, we created what was routinely acclaimed as the “best Master Mystery Production yet.”  Featuring one of our most dynamic stories and a stellar cast, we told the tragic tale of the Teatro Venezia, an opera house on the canals of Venice, Italy in 1899, where their celebrations at the end of a season are cut short by screams.  First, Leonora, dresser to the prima donna, Donatella, screams the house down with accusations and revelations that Donatella has been kidnapped.  Shortly thereafter, Leonora is found dead…poisoned by belladonna on her sewing needles.  Masked shadowy figures, gorgeous singing, and enough wine to float the gondolas, fill this extravagant production.  Lavish costumes…strong acting…powerful songs…Exit Prima Donna had it all.  As our first full-length musical production, we were aiming to strike it big with this show.

Cast Poster

These suspicious, singing suspects trade theories and insults while one of them hides behind a mask of innocence.  Exit Prima Donna balanced humor and drama wonderfully with hilarious scenes such as a tug-of-war for the last drop of wine and a fangirl swooning at the invitation from (and revelations about) her favorite opera star and sober, powerful scenes such as beautiful arias at a funeral, a diva’s dying farewell performance, and the desperate crying song of a kidnapped soprano.  We laughed.  We cried.  We felt everything on the Amargosa Opera House stage.

Donatella (Heather McGaha) pleading with Giuseppe (James Aguirre) through a beautiful rendition of Wanger’s “Du Bist der Lenz (You Are the Spring).”
Donatella (McGaha) recalls her mother’s (Elizabeth Pomazal) final words to her before she died. Photo by Kurt Moses Photography.
Leonardo (Rah Herrington) tries to proposition “a couple of beauties” (From L: Beth Sparks-Jacques and Devanne Fredette) if they might “dine” with his master, Giuseppe Rodolfo.

In live theatre, you never know how it will turn out onstage or how it will be received.  And with something as ambitious as a musical, you need to deliver to make it work.  And they did.  Our cast gave some of the best performances we’ve ever witnessed.  Their voices rang out in the beautiful Amargosa Opera House.  Those classic songs–“La Donna e mobile,” “When I Am Laid in Earth (Dido’s Lament),” “Flower Duet,” “The Drinking Song,” etc.– felt as alive and relevant as ever, filled with passion and heart.  We couldn’t be more proud of the cast and crew of Exit Prima Donna.

And our audiences?

Audience Reviews.
DI Reviews
Press Reviews

To say they loved it feels weirdly like an understatement.  Audiences ADORED Exit Prima Donna.  From the music to the acting to the costumes to the opera house itself, everything was acclaimed by our guests.  Writer/director Daniel Stallings was declared a theatre “legend” and his cast lauded as “perfect.”  Exit Prima Donna received the highest ratings and reviews of any Master Mystery Production to date, universally calling it “the best show of the 2017-2018 Amargosa season” and, by the Amargosa Board of Directors President, “the best thing to appear on that stage since Marta Becket danced there.”  The performance almost moved him to tears.  On closing night, we sold out, playing to a massive audience in the intimate Death Valley venue.  At curtain call, the applause, cheers, and whistles were like thunder.  We couldn’t be happier.

Read The Daily Independent‘s review of Exit Prima Donna here.


But there were more cheers to follow at curtain call on closing night.  Following tradition, we presented the Skeleton Key Award for Service Above and Beyond to a person who has dedicated so much hard work and energy to the creation and realization of a Master Mystery Production. Two winners were awarded for Exit Prima Donna.  In a special situation, we awarded a first Skeleton Key to MMP favorite, Celese Sanders, who was critical to the creation of our opera in everything from venue booking to auditions to casting.  Without her, the show wouldn’t have existed.  Sadly, she moved to another state and was unable to be a part of the production, so we recognized her with the Skeleton Key Award.  This show’s other very deserving winner was Beth Sparks-Jacques, a Chorus member, who earned hers throughout the production of this ambitious show, helping dress most of the cast and driving an hour each way just to get to rehearsals. Here you can see the moment she won, a moment which brought her to happy tears onstage. Congratulations Celese and Beth on your Skeleton Key Awards for Exit Prima Donna!

16-Exit Prima Donna
Awards for Exit Prima Donna
Congratulations Celese!
Congratulations Beth!

And there were more traditions to follow!  We still had to present the Diamond Mask Awards for Excellence in Performance, the audience-voted awards for their favorite actors and actresses who gave them performances they adored.  Exit Prima Donna was set to hand out three Diamond Masks, but due to the extremely high caliber performers we had, many ties were in evidence.  We handed out FOUR Diamond Mask Awards at curtain call to some very excited and deserving performers.  A thousand congratulations to Heather McGaha, Nicole Johnson, James Aguirre, and Rah Herrington for your Diamond Mask performances!

An accomplished and veteran actress of true talent and skill, Heather McGaha can finally add “award-winning” to that long list of credits for her beautiful portrayal of the prima donna, Donatella Violetta, her most challenging role to date. Imbuing her performance with intense emotion, heartbreaking power, and a gorgeous voice, Heather’s performance gave the audience chills. Congratulations on your first Diamond Mask win!
Nicole 2
Nicole Johnson, pictured on the left in her Act 3 costume (“a lady of the night” we affectionately nicknamed Strawberry Tart), gave us an intense, hysterical, passionate, heartfelt, emotional, and driven portrayal of Leonora, Donatella’s zealously devoted dresser.  Her fire onstage and her immense growth as an actress from show to show earned Nicole her SECOND Diamond Mask win, the first being Miriam Lancaster in Ode to Agatha.  Super congratulations to Nicole for her second Diamond Mask!
James Aguirre wowed audiences with his portrayal of the vain, self-absorbed, callous, and even brutal star tenor of the Teatro Venezia, Giuseppe Rodolfo.  His intensity and scene-stealing ability onstage lit up the Amargosa Opera House while delivering two showstopping musical numbers audiences will never forget. Congratulations James on your Diamond Mask winning performance!
With a masterpiece gender-bending performance (with the help of expert makeup by Elizabeth Pomazal), Rah Herrington played Giuseppe’s dresser, Leonardo with humor, drive, and commitment. Her mournful second act aria and and natural acting ability paid off in spades. She also played the mysterious Shadow, the figure in black that kidnaps Donatella.  But don’t make assumptions that she was also the killer.  Congratulations Rah on your phenomenal performance and Diamond Mask win!

Exit Prima Donna will enter the annals of Master Mystery Productions history as one of our masterpieces and a legendary production people will never forget.  The hard work, sheer commitment, talent, skill, and imagination of the entire cast and crew should be lauded for years to come.  We couldn’t have mastered this difficult and crazy ambitious show without them.  They make the show better.  Congratulations everyone!

Brava! Brava! Bravisima!

Sad that you missed out on Exit Prima Donna?  Want to be a part of MMP’s next adventure?  Or you just can’t wait for the next show?  Don’t worry, our next show is coming soon.  Celebrating the launch of writer/director Daniel Stallings’ first book, we’re holding an unusual book signing…one with a mystery you get to solve.  When a true crime writer announces she’s going to publish new facts regarding a scandalous bygone homicide case, her words are cut short by a speeding car. Now several years later, her husband announces at his book signing that he plans to finish his wife’s work…only for someone to try and silence him.  Auditions are coming up for this brand new interactive mystery where sticks and stones may break those bones…but words can be a killer in…


Auditions are Friday, May 4th and Saturday, May 5th from 5 to 7 p.m. at Red Rock Books in Ridgecrest (206 W. Ridgecrest Blvd.), who will also host the show.  Everyone is welcome to audition, no matter your level of experience.  The live performance will be Saturday, July 21st at 7:30 p.m. at Red Rock Books.

We hope to see you there!

–Master Mystery Productions

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