Murder, mayhem and nostalgia on stage at The Center

Murder, mayhem and nostalgia on stage at The Center
The cast of characters at The Center of Anna Maria Island’s 11th annual Murder Mystery gather ‘round as Principal Hughes suddenly drops dead on stage from poison. - Kristin Swain | Sun

ANNA MARIA – The Center of Anna Maria Island’s annual Murder Mystery is a favorite night out for many Islanders, but this year’s festivities were particularly interesting with a nostalgic 1980s theme and a real-life onstage proposal ending the night.

The play, written by Brianna Roberts and Beth and Mike Shaughnessy, began with a trip down memory lane for the cast, all 1978 graduates and staff from Ben Dover High School gathering for a 10-year reunion. Things quickly took a turn to the sinister when Principal John Hughes, played by Will Schenerlein, dropped dead after having a drink from the bar.

As various characters tried to find out who the murderer was, more antics ensued including the musical stylings of Marty McGoldblum, played by Clay Spangler, to 80s classic songs and a dance-off between Coach Dick Diggler, played by Don Purvis, and high school football great Ray Rodney King Jr., played by Ray Gardner. A prom court was voted in and a prom king and queen were awarded $50 gift cards to Slim’s Place in the costume contest.

Other cast members included Jillian Cacchiotti and Leah Purvis as mean girl cheerleaders Jillian Ryder and Leah Lockler, Chris Scott as nerd Judge Brinehold, Mike Shaughnessy as stoner bus driver Mike, Monica Simpson as exchange student Short Swan Chow, Brianna Roberts as undercover CIA agent Regina Jacobs and Caleb Roberts as George Michael look-alike Caleb Michael.

Center Murder Mystery engagement
As the cast of the Center’s Murder Mystery take their final bows Feb. 23, cast member Ray Gardner proposes marriage to long-time girlfriend and castmate Jillian Cacchiotti onstage. – Kristin Swain | Sun

Sponsors for the event included The Ugly Grouper, Slim’s Place, Progressive Cabinetry, Abrahamson and Uiterwyk Personal Injury Law Firm, Island Photography, Beach House Real Estate, Eason Builders Group, Moss Builders, ALSCO Linen and Uniform Rental Services, Johnson Homes, Key 2 Life Training, Steam Designs, the Freckled Fin and the Traveling Gourmet.

In keeping with the high school theme, food for the event was served on Styrofoam cafeteria trays in a lunch line setting, including a serving of mystery meat. Guests also were treated to a dessert table featuring cupcakes and mini mud pies, and appetizers including shrimp cocktail, spinach artichoke dip and salad.

Friday’s festivities topped out with around 170 attendees while Saturday night’s final performance drew a crowd of about 350.

Ending the final night of the Murder Mystery was a surprise onstage marriage proposal. As the cast took its final bows, Gardner proposed to longtime girlfriend Cacchiotti, ending the evening on a happy and celebratory note.