It’s Saturday night at Bissell Mansion, a nearly 200-year-old home overlooking Interstate 70 in north St. Louis. Dozens of people have gathered to enjoy a meal — and a murder mystery.
Over the course of the evening, dinner theater actors Linda Spall and Charles Heuvelman put on a raucous show, “Phantom of the Grand Ole Opry,” in which Spall plays two characters, Tammy Whino and Dolly Pardon, and Heuvelman portrays a very drunk Kenny Rogeers.
The rest of the cast has been drafted from among audience members, who were each assigned a role as they arrived and provided with a partial script outlining that particular part in the story. By the time salads have been served, one of the characters has been murdered, and it’s up to a wild bunch of country stars to apprehend the killer.
The whole scene is one that’s been a fixture at Bissell Mansion for more than three decades and continues to draw a crowd. Barb Schepker, general manager of the historic destination, remembers when the staff first came up with the idea of conducting participatory murder mystery dinners back in 1986.
“No one was doing it" in St. Louis, Schepker recalls.
On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, longtime murder mystery actor John Vullo joined host Sarah Fenske for a conversation about the goings-on at Bissell and a closer look at what it is that keeps diners returning there for more comedic mayhem.
In addition to frequently portraying one of the main roles for crowds at Bissell, Vullo has written some of its shows, which change every season. The next Vullo-penned murder mystery to be performed at Bissell is titled “Class Reunions Can Be Murder,” set to premiere in August.
Vullo, who is a retired St. Joseph’s Academy theater teacher, also presents murder mysteries on behalf of other entities. On occasion, those adventures have taken him and his business partner as far as New York City.
Listen to the conversation, which includes highlights from a show at Bissell this past weekend:
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.
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