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Things to do in Denver when you're native: Adams Mystery Playhouse

After last week's trip down memory lane for the thirtieth anniversary of the 16th Street Mall, I started to think about all of the places around this city that I've never visited. Since I'm a Colorado native, I've find it easy to all but ignore attractions that seem to be targeted to visitors and transplants. But after my return to the mall, I started wondering what I might have been missing.

Everyone knows about (or has celebrated a birthday at) Casa Bonita and Lakeside Amusement Park -- but what about the other kitschy and touristy stuff around town?

So this weekend, I decided to check out the Adams Mystery Playhouse, 2406 Federal Boulevard, and its latest play, Welcome to Murder Mortuary. An evening here includes dinner, a scavenger hunt, a cocktail hour and a show that runs more than two hours; you get the works for around $50 (the meal is included, but drinks and tips are additional.) But the chance to mingle with strangers and actors in this creepy, antiqued mansion is a free bonus!

See also: - Ten reasons why Lakeside Amusement Park rules - Slideshows -- Casa Bonita: It's real, and it's spectacular - Best of Denver 2007 -- Best Old West Restaurant: Buckhorn Exchange

Cast of Welcome to Murder Mortuary.
Cast of Welcome to Murder Mortuary.

Co-owners Carlos Cuellar and Marne Wills-Cuellar host the evening inside a beautiful, turn-the-last century Denver home that was once a mortuary. They're on-site and fully active in the Adams' Mystery Playhouse shows; in fact, as you roll up to the building, Carlos can be found directing traffic, making sure each guest gets a nice and legal parking spot.

Meeting an owner before we even entered the home was a solid indicator of how the evening would play out: This couple not only likes what they do, they enjoy engaging with their guests. Once those guests are inside the door, Marne checks reservations, gives scavenger-hunt instructions and encourages interaction with the actors, who are already working the dimly lit room. A pre-show cocktail hour allows adult guests to get lubricated and younger ones to get acquainted with space, and sets the tone for what is about to unfold -- an interactive, space-invading production where shyness is left at the door.

For me, this forced interaction was perhaps the best part of the evening. Unless you come with a party of ten, chances are you'll share a banquet table with a group of strangers, all with the understanding that you'll have to actually talk to each other and work together to solve the story's mystery.

Once we were all inside the dining area, Carlos and Marne introduced the space and gave some instruction on the evening's schedule, then herded diners through two buffet lines. The food wasn't amazing -- after all, it is a buffet -- but was secondary to the entertainment, anyway. And throughout the evening, there were lots of reasons for everyone to get up, dance and walk around -- which kept them awake after they'd been eating and sitting a while.

 

The show itself? Awesome. Part improv, part theatrical plot-driven sequences, Welcome to Murder Mortuary combines a surprisingly intricate murder-mystery script with audience-interactive improvisational conversations. Pop-culture references and physical humor work well for younger viewers, while more PG-13 wordplay is crafted in a way that goes over the little ones' heads, but has even the most stubborn adults laughing.

The show is full of seasoned actors, but Adams Mystery Playhouse veteran Nick Guida is the glue of this show. Playing two characters -- Dr. Orlock and Detective Jaque Bidet -- Guida is both a keen humorist and a pro at the pause; he lets jokes sink in each time, cuddling up to audience members in an Ace Ventura-esque way that brings his wonky personas to life. I had been mildly apprehensive of the quality of performance that might unfold in a dinner theater setting, but Guida blew my expectations out of the water, and kept the show moving through the evening.

While it became clear over the course of several hours that the Adams Mystery Playhouse is a favorite for birthday parties, anniversaries and other celebrations, it is definitely an attraction for any time -- but it's beautifully spooky right now.

In fact, the family just opened up the third floor of the mansion for "spooky" tours that run throughout the night of each performance. For a few extra bucks, guests can enjoy a haunting look at all the creepy nooks and crannies of the old building.

The Adams Mystery Playhouse is open year-round and hosts a rotating selection of productions; shows run every Friday and Saturday night. The facility and its players are also available for private events, including corporate parties and team-building exercises, any night of the week. For more information or to reserve tickets, call 303-455-1848 or visit the Adams Mystery Playhouse website.

Have a favorite Colorado restaurant, historical landmark or kitschy attraction you think more people should know about? Share in the comments below.



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