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Just the Acts, Ma'am 

The ladies' man is dead, and his killer is on the run. Solve the whodunit in new Pickwick & Frolic show.

Give props to an Alfred Hitchcock thriller as the inspiration for Pickwick & Frolic's new murder-mystery musical, debuting tonight. If it hadn't been for a screening of Stage Fright, Michael Rogaliner would probably still be trolling for a storyline for Stage Struck. "I think of it as an homage, because I think I stole one line," laughs Rogaliner, who doubles as the show's director. "While the stories are not very similar at all, I did add a love story, because there was one in Stage Fright. But both have interesting twists and turns."For starters, audience members are greeted in the fictional Oasis Nite Club with a chalk outline of a gunned-down leading man, who's been flirting with the ladies in the cast. Then guests follow a loosely scripted dialogue to solve the murder. Is it the security guard who'd kill to replace the actor onstage? Do the cat fights between the supporting actresses offer any clues? And what's up with the gold-digging cabaret singer, Pinky, who's just lost her sugar daddy of a husband? The answers come from Rogaliner's script — his initiation into the world of writing about intrigue and suspense, with a dash of humor thrown into the mix. "I researched it a lot, talked to a lot of different people, and learned how to write one," says Rogaliner. "It's the most bizarre thing. It's getting the best reaction I've gotten from anybody out of anything I've done at Pickwick. I'm shocked."Between acts, the restaurant's chefs plate up a choice of entrées, including chicken marsala, baked tilapia, chipotle pizza-and-chicken, and an eight-ounce prime rib. And despite the ongoing murder investigation, the cast lives up to its end of the bargain by breaking out into lighthearted songs like "Can't Buy Me Love," "Hot Stuff," and "Save the Last Dance for Me." And between the mounting of evidence and the unraveling of alibis, dessert is served. "I haven't seen all the murder mysteries out there, and I'm sure we're not totally original," says Rogaliner. "But we have some sort of original bent on it."The show replaces the club's weekly cabaret acts, which, after five years, it "couldn't give away anymore." If the murder-mystery musical proves a winner, the restaurant could stage it at least once a month. "People have to know — especially in the summer in Cleveland — if they don't come, it's going to be gone," says Rogaliner. "If we can make a regular out of the mystery theater, I'll be happy." The action starts at 8 tonight at Pickwick & Frolic's Cabaret Theater, 2035 East Fourth Street. Tickets are $45.62. Call 216-736-4242 or visit
Fri., May 16, 8 p.m., 2008

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