Natrona Heights mystery dinner theater show benefits cancer research

| Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, 8:52 p.m.

Things aren't so jolly in the land of Ol' Saint Nick!

It's Christmas Eve at the North Pole, and what should be a flurry of activity has ground to an ugly halt. Blame it on one arrogant red-nosed reindeer who is refusing to fly.

A strike on Dec. 24! The cast of Mystery's Most Wanted invite whodunit fans to take a relaxing break from their hectic holiday preparations to learn what happens when Santa, Mrs. Claus and a few of their friends try to settle matters ... permanently.

It all plays out Dec. 14 at Natrona Heights VFW Post 894 in this interactive dinner-theater presentation lovingly titled, “Slay Ride,” and subtitled “Rudolph the Dead-Nosed Reindeer!”

It is an evening of good food, good humor and mystery for one of the ultimate of good causes.

Highlands Elementary Hikers Relay for Life team is sponsoring the benefit for the ongoing fight against cancer.

“This is a great way to relax and enjoy yourself, and step away from the stress of preparing for the holidays,” says Jan McCurdy of Natrona Heights, show chairperson. “As a Relay, our goal is to help others celebrate more birthdays as we join together as a community committed to the fight against cancer.”

Highlands Relay for Life needs these events to help raise money throughout the year, says publicity chairperson Debbie Grupac of Natrona Heights.

“Our fund-raising totals have dropped in the past several years and we are always looking for new ways to raise money. The mystery show we had last year from this company was well received, which is why we decided to try a Christmas-theme mystery for anyone who wants to escape the Christmas rush for a while.”

Audience members can compete for prizes to solve the mystery, or just sit back and watch.

Mystery's Most Wanted has been performing murder-mystery dinner theater in the Pittsburgh area for more than 18 years.

All of the cast members are professional actors with strong improvisational skills, says founder Randy Oliva of Penn Hills. “I know the audience will love them,” he says. “The actors know that it's as important for us to have as much fun as the audience. If this wasn't fun, none of us would do this,” he adds.

Fall and the holiday season is the company's busiest time of year. “Our Christmas shows are very popular because, as our audiences have commented, it's a time when co-workers and family get together to do something fun together,” Oliva says.

People of all age groups, from teens to seniors, attend. “Our actors are trained to make sure they cater to whatever age group is in the room and make them feel part of the show,” he explains.

In the case of an event for an organization like Highlands Relay for Life, Oliva says it is especially satisfying not only to be able to entertain people, but also do it for a great cause.

“It has been a great joy over these years to make our audiences laugh and to see the smiles on their faces,” he says. “Every one of our cast members has lost or known of someone that has lost their battle to cancer. To be able to help an amazing organization like Relay for Life makes us feel like we are doing our part in the fight.”

“Slay Ride” was Mystery's Most Wanted's first holiday show in 1995. It ran for a few years, took a long hiatus and returned two seasons ago after having been re-written by Oliva.

“Over the years, ‘Slay Ride' has been given a face lift to fit the strengths of our actors,” he says.

Dialogue and musical numbers have been changed or added. “It really is considered a totally different production from the original,” he says.

He recommends that people come ready to have a good time.

“Come with a mindset that you will laugh. You will have fun,” he says. “We have had so many in the past tell us after our shows that they were dragged there by their partners, not knowing what to expect, never thinking they were going to have fun. And now, we see some of them at each of our new shows.”

He is proud of his company. “I think that not only do we have amazing writers in the company, writers who know what our audiences want to see, but we have amazing actors who are incredible at improvisation. They make the audience feel like they are part of the show,” he says.

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or

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