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Washington County Playhouse brings back "The Golden Girls" with murder

Washington County Playhouse brings back "The Golden Girls" with murder

NOTE: All performances are sold out.

From the mid-80s to the early ‘90s, U.S. households tuned into view the antics of four fictional, single, older women sharing a home in Miami, Fla. Known as “The Golden Girls,” characters Blanche Devereaux, Rose Nylund, Dorothy Zbornak and Sophia Petrillo encountered obstacles, gathered around the kitchen table over cheesecake to tackle them, and led the audience through comical and dramatic moments to follow.

The Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater will serve up that tradition with sides of crime and intrigue with its production of “The Golden Girls 2 – Another Merry Murderous Christmas.” Performances run through Sunday, Nov. 24. Tickets cost $53.50 and include dinner, the show and non-alcoholic beverages. The play is a follow-up to “The Golden Girls Holiday Mystery,” which the Playhouse staged last year.

“Another Merry Murderous Christmas” revolves around a Christmas party hosted by the ladies at which Dorothy goes missing, and a search for motives and alibis ensues. The characters, Adrian Monk of TV’s detective series “Monk” and his assistant, Sharona Fleming, attend the party and, with the help of guests, attempt to solve the mystery.

Allison Banzhoff of Hagerstown, a 35-year veteran of the Playhouse, reprises her role as Sophia after starring in last year’s mystery. At 55, Banzhoff is much younger than her character Sophia, who at the beginning of the TV series was written as the 80-year-old mother of the character Dorothy.

Estelle Getty, who portrayed Sophia on the show, was younger than the character as well. Getty actually was the youngest of the four (Golden Girls) actresses though her character was the oldest, Banzhoff said.

“Her character is a hoot. She is this little old lady and on the show, her character has had a stroke and her filter is completely gone. So she says whatever she thinks — the good, the bad, socially acceptable or not,” Banzhoff said. “She says the things you wish you could say in a social setting but you know you shouldn’t. Sophia just let’s it fly.”

Banzhoff ages herself with a wig and makeup. She also studied Getty’s portrayal of Sophia.

“I watched the show a lot. She has certain mannerisms, the way she talks. She is Sicilian. She does certain arm movements. She uses her hands when she gets excited,” she said.

Though she didn’t watch the show regularly when it aired, in watching it for character study, Banzhoff concluded “it was ahead of its time.”

“They touched on subjects and topics, social issues that others really weren’t talking about,” she said. “At the same time, they were hilarious.”

“Another Merry Murderous Christmas” is less focused on social issues but more on the nuances of the well-known characters.

Banzhoff described Rose as “very ditzy,” Sophia as sarcastic, and Blanche as a Southern belle who “likes to flirt.”

“It takes the characters and just highlights all the typical aspects of them and also tries to figure out ‘whodunit,’” she said. “It plays on all their foibles and individual spins and weaves it into a murder mystery,” Banzhoff said.

Amid the mayhem, Monk and Fleming end up at the party as well. Chelsea Bondarenko, 29, of Hagerstown, acts as Fleming.

“Basically they are having a Christmas party at the playhouse and my character is from New Jersey. She is a single mom. She thinks she is going to an OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder) conference but she ends up in the wrong place,” Bondarenko said.

“The Golden Girls Holiday Mystery” was well-received last year, and tickets for this year’s show were selling fast at press time.

“I think probably because ‘Golden Girls’ is such a classic. So many people loved it. The characters are relatable,” Bondarenko said. “Making those characters come to life onstage is quite the experience.”

Banzhoff said the show is “a lot about laughing and relationships.”

“One thing the Golden Girls always did was they loved each other, they hated each other and they went to bat for each other,” she said, “and you will see a lot of that here as well.”

Top photo: From left, Allison Banzhoff as Sophia; Stephanie Allee as Dorothy; Diana Abrecht as Blanche and Joan Crooks as Rose.

If you go ...

WHAT: “The Golden Girls 2 – Another Merry Murderous Christmas”
WHEN: Sunday, Nov. 17 at 1 p.m..; Wednesday, Nov. 20 at 6 p.m.; Thursday, Nov. 21 at 6 p.m.; Friday, Nov. 22 at 6 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 24 at 1 p.m.
WHERE: The Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater, 44 N. Potomac St., rear entrance, Hagerstown
COST: All performances are sold out.
CONTACT: Visit washingtoncountyplayhouse.com or call box office at 301-739-7469

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