'Dial S for Santa'

Twas the night before Christmas and the employees of Peachfuzz Mall are celebrating the end of another holiday season with a big party.

All of a sudden, Santa Claus is kidnapped. The mall employees are suddenly sobered, especially since the spirit of Christmas also disappears with Santa.

The original play is written by JJ and Kate Musgrove, who founded the Columbus Mystery Theatre.

“We wrote the first draft, and then came back to it,” Kate Musgrove said. But it took them about six weeks all together to finish the script.

“It’s our hobby,” JJ Musgrove said.

“We don’t have kids,” his wife said.

“Most people come home and play with their kids,” JJ Musgrove said. “We come home and write plays.”

Two actors, Rearcous Smith and Amber Dickerson, play the major roles. The audience members play between 15-20 characters throughout the evening. And one of them is the kidnapper. The rest of the audience votes to see which character is the culprit. The person who solves the crime wins a prize.

As audience members arrive, they are asked if they want to participate in the play. If they do, they’ll receive instructions.

Kate Musgrove has seen some erstwhile actors in the lobby practicing their lines.

In “Dial S for Santa,” some characters are mall employees who — with the help of police detective Richard Dixon, played by Smith — search for Santa. They meet up with a variety of celebrities, including Jack Tickleson, Angelina Jelly Belly and Britney Spheres.

The detective has been in all three of the CMT productions, and audiences can look forward to seeing him again next season. Although it might appear that the show is improvised, 99 percent is actually scripted, JJ Musgrove said. “We’ve had great audiences,” Smith said. “It’s a lot of fun,” Kate Musgrove said. “(The audience) gets a chance to act. Some of them really want to stand up and get their moment in the spotlight.” Dickerson has never done a murder mystery before and is looking forward to her first one when it opens Friday. “I think I’m going to enjoy the interaction with the audience,” she said. “I enjoy that challenge,” Smith said. This is his second such play, having been the police detective in “In Death Do Us Part.” “I get to craft three different characters in between courses,” he added. Kate Musgrove wants a “high quality dining experience” along with a good murder mystery. The whole thing takes about 2½ hours from start to finish, JJ Musgrove said. While many of the patrons have been from Columbus, there are some who’ve come from outside the city. Parents visiting their children at Fort Benning have found their way to the dinner theater. There have been guests from as far away as California and New York. The theater is really happy in its new home in the Columbus Marriott Hotel, both Musgroves say. They will be doing four shows next year.

The Musgroves aren’t too crazy about the name Columbus Mystery Theatre. So they’re holding a contest for patrons to rename the company.

The winner will receive four tickets for next season.

At $44 a pop, that’s a pretty good prize.