Post Mortem: CLOSER TO HEAVEN

Take a chill pill…

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

From Friday the 13th to a blood moon eclipse on the 15th, the Half-Moon Killer emerged from the shadows of 1980’s Los Angeles to stalk his prey. He seemed to have found a particular interest in the “angels”–women in the employ of Dawn Schuyler’s Closer to Heaven Nightclub–as his reign of terror seems hell-bent on eliminating them one by one. But for this one weekend, at a dramatic “Moonlight Madness” party, a battle royale will pit a remorseless serial killer against The One Who Got Away. This is the stage for our most ambitious Master Mystery Production yet with show number 29 bringing live music, theatre, and interactive mystery in a neon, new wave extravaganza we called Closer to Heaven.

A blood moon…

We never planned the Friday the 13th or the Blood Moon timing. It was kismet, and it seemed so perfect for the performance we were going to give. Closer to Heaven became one of the most ambitious projects we ever had. We had live rock music courtesy of 80’s hair metal cover band Hot Tub Metal Machine, an amazing new venue from Moe’s Music, the painstaking period details of our set, costumes, makeup, hair, and lights, our first integration of voiceover, a VIP section, food, drinks, photos, and a rollicking party that filled the club with a neon glow. There were hundreds upon hundreds of moving parts that could slip at any moment. At times, staging a production of this magnitude became beyond stressful. But the show must go on. And the show did. And it was a phenomenal production, a huge bash that joins forces with our other spring spectaculars like Goodbye Hollywood, Bury Me in Paris, Exit Prima Donna, Eat Cake, and Mum’s the Word. We like to open our seasons in epic fashion.

Erin Rochester (played by Heather McGaha) and Crystal Cunningham (Nicole Johnson) prepare for a night at Closer to Heaven.

For one weekend only, we transformed Moe’s Music into the Closer to Heaven nightclub on a night in June 1986 in Los Angeles, “an artery branching off the heart of Hollywood,” as Angel Archer would say. It’s Dawn Schuyler’s special “Moonlight Madness” party, which would be a cause for celebration…except she’s trying to lure the Half Moon Killer, a dangerous serial killer who has targeted her and the women in her employ, out of hiding to catch him once and for all. But is she risking the safe haven she’s built for the survivors she’s protecting? Over the night, shattering secrets and stories unfold. A Madonna impersonator and a Don Johnson devotee discuss the artificial nature of their careers and the struggles of holding onto their own sense of self…while a cancer diagnosis looms overhead like a dark omen. Young, fragile love is starting to blossom even amidst revelations of abuse and depression. And there’s a rumor of a slasher-obsessed Valley girl necking Leatherface behind the bar. Not to mention the downright evil Los Angeles investor hovering around the club with an agenda to buy out Dawn and rip their safe haven out from under their feet. Oh and let’s not leave out the strange, shadowy figure in a glow-in-the-dark mask who flits around the set with malice in that frozen, crescent moon grin. Closer to Heaven is packed with intense emotion, high drama, laughs, danger, and like, totally killer fashion.

Hallie Sheppard (Olivia Holm) tries to pitch the terrifyingly neon energy drink Roidorade to the crowd.
Dawn Schuyler (Leslie Blake) is the Boss, and everyone knows it. She is the only known survivor of the Half Moon Killer.
Angel Archer (Calvin Johnson) welcomes the new hire, Stella Spencer (Janis Kunz), to the “City of Dreams.”
Gabriel Baker (Daniel Stallings) in his special effects zombie makeup is jealous of Angel flirting with Stella.
Lucas Carrington (Sam Johnson) is unimpressed with Dawn’s arrangements at Closer to Heaven.
Ariel (Libby Mitchell), Dawn’s assistant, has a knack for eavesdropping. Who could she be spying on?
Dawn can’t be bothered dealing with Lucas.
Lucas intimidates Stella. “These people are the angels. Dawn is the Archangel. But I…am God. I run this joint.”

As we warned our audiences, you had to keep your eyes peeled in the club to see what was going to happen next. Hot Tub Metal Machine performed a rocking set at intermission, and while guests mingled, browsed the records, grabbed food and drinks, and partied, our characters emerged at intervals and performed little vignettes highlighting upcoming relationships and struggles of their lives in the show. Why does Lucas play with Erin’s hair? Why did Gabriel jerk his arm away when Stella touched it? And who is that masked figure following Dawn? As the moon rose in the sky, the play continued and the answers were revealed.

Hot Tub Metal Machine performs at Closer to Heaven.
A special visitor…
A shocking revelation…
Erin wrestles with a painful memory of her mother.
Stella shares a deep, dark secret with Gabriel.
Gabriel describes his depression “like living in a cave, a tight, narrow cave that tapers into a pinhole of light far above you…”
Lucas confronts Erin with a dangerous ultimatum…

The show was an intense passion project for the cast that really pushed them into new heights of artistry and creativity. But how did critics and audiences feel about our homage to the 80’s?

Reviews of Closer to Heaven

Audiences and reviewers more than loved it; They were inspired by our production. Our major review of the show read like pure poetry with the critic saying she felt “inspired by the show.” Audiences really loved the immersive setting, the tremendous acting, the heartfelt story, and the high quality of all the moving parts of the show. Closer to Heaven‘s run at Moe’s Music moved like clockwork; All the pieces came together into a smooth, polished masterpiece. Our work was hailed as “perfect,” “exemplary,” “moving, and “touching.” Fantastic work, MMP! We nailed yet another phenomenal show!

Read the full review of the show here from Jessica Weston for The Daily Independent

But even the 80’s were going to die, and no show is eternal. But we were determined to close with a celebration. Closing night is our traditional awards night. First up was The Skeleton Key Award for Service Above and Beyond, our oldest award. Each designed to uniquely reflect the show it was made for, the Skeleton Key Award is a symbol of an individual putting their heart and soul into a Master Mystery Production, going above and beyond their assigned jobs in the show to make it the best it can be. They are inspirations to us in the company, and they remain celebrated in our programs and on our website for years to come. Congratulations Heather McGaha for winning the Skeleton Key Award for Closer to Heaven!

Award for Closer to Heaven
Congratulations Heather!

Following the Skeleton Key, we presented the coveted Diamond Mask Awards for Excellence in Performance. Voted by audiences, guests select their nominees for the award based on the performances they liked best. The actors with the most votes win. On their first win, they receive a special diamond pin and subsequent wins will receive a diamond chain to create a cascade of diamonds. Four people won the award for Closer to Heaven. Congratulations to Heather McGaha, Olivia Holm, Calvin Johnson, and Daniel Stallings for your Diamond Mask-winning performances!

In 2019, we thought Brigitte the Bawd was Heather McGaha’s strongest performance yet. Until we saw her perform as Erin Rochester in Closer to Heaven. Stepping into the shoes of a Madonna look-a-like whose own identity and health is gradually and painfully being stripped away from her is a challenge for any performer, but the incomparable Heather commanded the stage with a powerful pathos that gripped your heart and never let go. It was a masterclass in acting when she took the stage, and audiences were spellbound by her performance, topping votes every single night. As such, she is awarded with her third, very much earned Diamond Mask Award for Excellence in Performance for the role of Erin Rochester. BRAVO, Heather!
Olivia Holm dazzles onstage when she kicks it into high gear. Not only is her makeup legendary, but she nailed the performance of Hallie Sheppard night after night with a range from sweet and supportive to terrified to the bone to sassy smart mouth to mysterious and cunning. Her high octane hilarity in peddling her noxious energy drink Roidorade made us fall over laughing. This range and her stunning commitment to push herself further propelled her to win her FOURTH Diamond Mask Award for her acting, becoming the first woman to win the award four times. Congratulations Olivia!
Calvin Johnson’s portrayal of Angel Archer wasn’t the first role he pictured for himself, but it became the role where his essential humanity as a performer shone as brightly as the stars. Some roles call for intricate reconstruction of a period character. Some call for hilarious antics. Some call for big energy. But some call for a heart. And a heart Calvin has in spades as he delivered a performance of balance and emotional strength as Angel struggles to hold together his chosen family, wrestles with his identity, reckons with the shocking revelation of a dear friend, and stops a cold-blooded murderer from destroying the only real home he’s known. There were shouts. There were tears. There were laughs. And a helluva heart still beating beneath it all. Calvin’s professionalism and talent earned him a record-obliterating SIXTH Diamond Mask Award for his portrayal, a feat which solidifies his current status as the most decorated performer in MMP history. Bravo, Calvin!
Since 2015, Daniel Stallings has been a writer/director for Master Mystery Productions, but he has stepped into the shoes of an actor several times over the years. Always giving the most he can to every production he’s in, Daniel has often skimmed close to winning the award but, more often than not, has found himself just out of reach of it. Until now. Casting himself last in the role of Gabriel Baker when not enough male performers attended auditions, Daniel threw himself into the role of a troubled and teddy-bear-like bouncer and wannabe makeup artist whose scars run deeper than the ones on his skin, a role that emotionally tested him every rehearsal and performance. Bringing to life a story of a man’s struggle with depression and subsequent rebirth with a newfound passion, Daniel’s performance as Gabriel was hailed as his best yet from his fellow castmates. And audiences agreed by awarding him with his first Diamond Mask Award for Excellence in Performance, an announcement with brought Daniel to tears onstage. Congratulations Daniel on your first Diamond Mask win!
Incredulous tears of joy on closing night of Closer to Heaven.

Three additional honors were awarded on closing night of our show. Putting on a show–be it play, musical, concert, or a totally bitchin’ party–is seldom flawless. One can always expect complications along the way. But when times are difficult and challenges arise, some people find the strength and dedication to help us cross the finish line. We are forever grateful to these individuals. We awarded three Special Commendations to Calvin Johnson, Monica Dwyer, and Libby Mitchell as an expression of tremendous gratitude for their work on the show and willingness to step up and help in times of difficulty. They are superstars. Congratulations!

Congratulations Calvin, Monica, and Libby!

Closer to Heaven was a massive undertaking that could only have been possible because of the dedicated people working on it. Without these people, shows wouldn’t be possible, and we want to thank each and every one of them. And thank you to Moe’s Music for being a wonderful venue that allowed us to really step up and run wild with our imaginations. We can’t wait to see what new ideas we will dream up to use this wonderful space in the future. Because Closer to Heaven proved that, like, anything is like totally possible. Are there any limits to what we can accomplish at MMP? AS IF!

The cast of Closer to Heaven and Hot Tub Metal Machine

We have a couple new adventures and new venues in store. We’ll be doing a one day show in Mammoth Lakes for the Eastern Sierra Book Festival called EYEWITNESS on July 17, 2022. The event is totally free.

But following that, MMP’s next production will whisk you to the sidewalk cafes of Paris in 1925 for a Surreal look at the scandalous murder as two artists recreate the secret lives, loves, and loathings of a murdered heiress in…

TÊTE-À-TÊTE

We hope to bring this artistic creation to the Fourm Theater in Lone Pine, CA this fall. Keep an eye out for more updates! Keep on sleuthing, everyone!

–Master Mystery Productions

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s