By Zach Sparks
The comedians at Die Laughing Productions have performed murder mysteries on three continents, they have entertained U.S. troops, and now they’re taking on another task: time travel. Their ninth and newest murder mystery, “Hit Me 90’s One More Time,” will debut at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis on February 27 at 8:00pm.
The talented cast includes 98 Rock morning show host Justin Schlegel and fellow comedians Tommy Sinbazo, Erik Woodworth, Rob Maher, Joe Robinson and Sean Gabbert. Like “Smooth Criminal” and the other Die Laughing Productions shows, “Hit Me 90’s One More Time” will be one-third scripted, one-third improv and one-third audience participation.
“‘Smooth Criminal’ was more of a music vibe and this is more of a nostalgia vibe,” Maher said. “There is a music aspect, but there’s a lot of pop culture stuff with ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Forrest Gump.’ We thought technology was great, and there’s some humor in that.”
Robinson added, “People will remember ‘Friends,’ ‘Saved by the Bell’ and the Macarena — just identifying with things from the decade.”
The interactive whodunit will place the audience at the scene of a radio station promotional event while listeners vie for the hottest concert ticket of the year, Ace of Base. Some unlucky person will not just lose their religion but will also meet their fate.
How is this murder mystery different from others? Robinson was intrigued by the concept after an experience he had five years ago while trying to book tickets for himself and his girlfriend, Katie Peusch, who is now his fiancée.
“I went to get tickets and it was sold out,” Robinson said. “I had to wait two months to see this murder mystery. It was horrible and people loved it.”
Robinson and Maher tapped into their network of successful comedians to create Die Laughing Productions. Maher attributed the company’s success, in part, to knowing the cast and playing to their strengths, from Schlegel’s wit to Woodworth’s enthusiasm for strutting around in his underwear.
“Justin is great at just being in the moment and going off on tangents. Any organic moment with the crowd, he shines,” Maher said. “Erik is a great physical comedian who has no problem with undress. He is a good singer and dancer, and Tommy is a great singer. In this show, Tommy and Erik sing a cappella together. Sean is probably our most legitimate actor. He plays the Zack Morris – the cool, confident, cocky kid in the show. Joe has a dry deadpan kind of humor.”
The crowd will also be treated to songs from Weird Al’s catalog, a hobby Sinbazo and Woodworth shared while entertaining troops overseas.
“It just helped to pass the time on long bus rides or long hikes across the various bases,” Sinbazo said. “We were just having fun with it and then it was Rob who said, ‘No, people need to hear this.’”
People attending the ‘90s show won’t just hear music and laugh at gags, but some will have speaking lines. Each show has about 10 audience roles, spread out so that more groups have a rooting interest. Robinson explained that he and Peusch “eye-ball the crowd” to assign parts.
“A role where someone is playing Erik’s father, we want to pick someone who couldn’t be his father. Whatever will lend itself to the comedy,” Robinson said.
Maher said, “When someone in the audience is doing their lines, if they do it well, it’s good, and if they do it poorly, it’s funny as well.”
READ MORE: Get To Know 98 Rock’s Justin Schlegel
Die Laughing Productions will celebrate Valentine’s Day with “The Newly Dead Game” at Magooby’s Joke House in Timonium on February 14 at 8:00pm. The cast will return to Anne Arundel County for “Back to the 80s” at Crofton Country Club on March 2 at 8:00pm. Details are at www.dielaughingproductions.com.
Rams Head On Stage is located at 33 West Street in Annapolis. For tickets to “Hit Me 90’s One More Time,” visit www.ramsheadonstage.com.
“Feel free to show up and wear some 90s-related gear: your favorite Nirvana shirt or baggy jeans,” Maher said.