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Best written reviews for Moonshine Murders performed at Woodgrove High School in Purcellville, Virginia. Reviewed on December 18, 2020.

This show may be viewed at  https://whsva.booktix.com/


Diana Altenhof

Stone Bridge High School


You! In the alley! You’d better run the other way; Snowy Fox’s joint is getting the look-over from cops! No time to lounge when the lounge-singing crowd’s in danger, but you can hear them whistle when you tune into Moonshine Murders from Woodgrove High School.


Woodgrove’s Moonshine Murder, first shown as a drive-in special at The Family Drive-In Theater, was a collaboration between Stagecoach Theater Company and Woodgrove’s The Grove Theater. Adult adaptive playwriting and directing were matched by student writing, producing, musicianship, videography, and all other technical elements (save for a joint student-professional editing team.) The multi-cut, film-style play was a result of taping actors both onstage and at home.


When young 60s singer-songwriter Violet (Eliza Prymak) feels lost in her songwriting process, her mother turns to the tale of grandmother Violet Sanata (Emily Reeps) and her life as a singer in a 20s D.C. mob-circuit speakeasy, owned by the illustrious Snowy Fox (Samantha Huffer.) When high ranking frequenters are targeted, the livelihoods and safety of the speakeasy crew are turned upside down.


Moonshine Murders offered a stand-out group of singers. Prymak, Reeps, and Huffer demonstrated excellent vocal technique and embraced tones unique to their respective eras, which emboldened their personas beyond non-musical scenes. Scarlett Star (Hailey Grieve) took the crooner approach and reached into her physicality for her solo song, “Red Glitter”. Complementing the singing staff is patron Bugsy Moronski (Luke Murtaugh) and bodyguard Curly Moe (Matthew Murray). Their rapid-fire banter lightened the crowd and pushed the plot forward in pivotal moments.


What could a speakeasy be without its lively regulars? The ensemble kept their accents and mannerisms consistent with the Prohibition era, lending their hand to an immersive experience. The Costume crew (Murphy, Kunkel, Matic, Hardy) and Hair and Makeup crew (Grieve, Allen, Huffer, Smyth, Hardy, Reeps) teamed up to outfit these personalities, making sure that fine details like pearls and feathers made their mark on the production.


When ousted from the idea of a play live on stage, Woodgrove turned to digital effects to complete their vision.  Making comprehensive sets and backgrounds that could reach from stage to screen required talents from both production and post-production. Scenic Design and Construction (Cooke, Matic, Siemer) cooked up and built the smoky, on-stage speakeasy. Sound (Phan, Siemer), Lighting (Buhler, Cooke, Rubalcaba, Phan), and Editing (Buhler, Fratterola, Folks) helped mesh Moonshine Murder’s “home-base” scenes with at-home scenes. Aesthetic and ambiance choices down to the typewriter font of title cards made for an all-around enjoyable viewing experience. In place of a mounting score or projecting from actors, cuts between different actors and angular choices from the Videography crew (Buhler, Gannon, Huddleston, Siemer, Burroughs, Siecinski) paved the way for audience focus points.


Bowler hats off to the company of Woodgrove High School’s Moonshine Murders. A bullet can stop a mobster dead in his tracks, but a pandemic can’t stop the spirit of theater. With a tune for everyone and era-unique charm, Moonshine Murders gives this round on the house.

Carolyn Saxe

Thomas Wootton High School


With a crash of thunder, a murder mystery begins; jazz, booze, and drama overrun the cramped speakeasy from Woodgrove High School’s film adaptation of Moonshine Murders by Terry Smith.


Originally produced 2 years ago, this play with music features Violet Sanata, a singer in a classic 1920s speakeasy grappling with the murder of her betrothed, Bugsy, a member of the local mob in Washington D.C. Presented by Violet’s daughter Maggie, she tells the tale of their family’s past 40 years later to her own daughter, a young singer/songwriter also named Violet. In the 30-minute preview, the mystery is left unsolved, a compelling incentive to see the whole show.


Working actively with the playwright, many students stepped up to the challenge to not only adapt the play for the screen, but to expand upon the original script, seamlessly allowing more students to join in. Every new song and character fit in so well it was surprising to learn they weren’t from the original script. All the actors were right at home in the 20s with their mobster accents and flapper mannerisms, unimpeded by the clear plastic face masks they wore.


Many actors caught the eye in the short time they all were on screen. Emily Reeps played Violet Sanata with much tact and grace, and her voice complemented those she sang with very well, like in the duet with Bugsy (Luke Murtaugh) “Turn Off Your Light, Mister Moon Man.” The other Violet, played by Eliza Prymak, effortlessly sang a song she wrote herself titled “like music does,” strumming along on her guitar. And though she was just another one of the showgirls, Scarlett Star (Hailey Grieve) truly embraced her role, crooning and swaying along to her own lyrics, filling the small singer’s stage with her personality.


All the speakeasy’s performers got a chance in the spotlight in the penultimate song of the show, a recap of the preceding events in beautiful yet bittersweet harmony accompanied by student-directed choreography. Back in the 60s, Violet’s new understanding of her namesake in the finale allowed her to complete her song, and she and Violet Sanata sang a sweet duet together on the speakeasy’s golden stage as their connection to music transcended time and united them.


Despite the number of people in the speakeasy, the videographer team managed to capture everyone on stage at once in well-composed long shots, and it was rarely noticeable that some actors were in fact recording from home. The editing presented a coherent, fluid plot despite being only a quarter the length of the whole show, though occasionally choppy, and the inclusion of timely, typewriter font title sequences and transitions enhanced the 1920s film aesthetics. From sound, their striking effects aided the transitions and allowed tension to be sustained. The costumes team (Casey Murphy, Wyatt Kunkel, Mila Matic, and Ella Hardy) outdid themselves with incredible outfits; each showgirl had her own detailed, color-coordinated flapper dress, while the men in the mob had sharp suits and fedoras befitting their station, staying safe all the while by disinfecting each costume between rehearsals.


When you watch the show, you won’t be asking Mister Moon Man to turn his light off until you get a confession.



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