A coy Daisy McSkew finds herself in a love conundrum. She can't decide which of the three gentlemen callers fawning over her to marry. In an instant, love takes a back seat to a murder investigation after somebody is mysteriously bumped off.
The crime scene is the "Last Chance Social Club" inside the White Bear Lake Armory, where Lakeshore Players Theatre will stage the interactive "Great Western Melodrama Murder Mystery" Friday and Saturday evenings. The shows are part of its annual mid-winter fundraiser.
"There is lots of audience participation," said Sarah Fisher, a Lakeshore Players board member who wrote the script. "They are totally involved."
Cast members will mingle with the crowd during intermission and perhaps drop hints as to who the evil-doer is. But most of the clues will come during the 45-minute show in which audience members will be asked to sing along and participate in a hoedown. Showgirls will hold cards encouraging them to cheer the hero and boo the villain.
"It will be a real blast," Fisher said. "The actors are hysterical."
Guests can win prizes for solving the crime, or for wearing "Old Western" attire and winning a costume contest. Over the years, that has been one of the highlights of the annual fundraiser, said Joan Elwell, Lakeshore's managing director.
"We have been amazed," Elwell said. "The first costume contest we had was when we had a 'Wedding from Hell' theme, and we thought it would be fun to have an ugly bride's maids dress contest. Last year we had 30 to 40 people in gangster outfits. It will be fun to see what people come as."
A popular vote will determine the costume contest winners, but the bigger winners will be children who participate in the theater's after-school and summer programs.
The fundraiser aims to bring in about $20,000, which is one-quarter of the theater's budget. That money will provide scholarships for the youth programs, and also cover costs for outreach programs such as shows presented at senior centers, libraries and venues such as the Landmark Center. A portion also will help subsidize the theater's monthly Pay-What-You-Can performances.
Now in it's 59th season, the Lakeshore Players Theatre relies heavily on volunteers to produce seven productions a year, including plays, musicals and at least one children's show. Though it has 10 employees, only Elwell and one other are full-time. A total of 433 volunteers -- actors, musicians, ushers, costume assistants and technicians -- gave more than 19,840 hours last year.
This weekend more than 45 people will volunteer each night, doing everything from ticket-taking to serving a barbecue (or vegetarian) dinner to facilitating a live and silent auction. The auction will include hotel stays, restaurant certificates, theater tickets, spa packages, wines and other items.
"We have kids from the National Honor Society and White Bear schools who serve," Elwell said. "Volunteers, they come out of the woodwork."
Nine volunteer actors will be portraying characters from an actual old-time melodrama star in the "Great Western Melodrama Murder Mystery." The cast includes Minneapolis' Amy Luedtke, who plays McSkew, and Chad Snyder, who plays Filbert Fearless, and White Bear Lake's J.P. Barone, who plays villain Two Gun Percy.
"We do a fundraiser like this every February," Elwell said. "The theme changes yearly, but it's a good time of year to do it because people are dying to get out and do something fun."
Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib