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Murder! The Musical: Mysterious Glensheen Mansion killings get stage treatment

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The grisly 1977 murders at Duluth's historic Glensheen Mansion is the subject of a darkly comic musical that gets its first showing Saturday night in St. Paul.

Promising "wicked dialogue" and "evocative music," the History Theater will start its 3-week run of "Glensheen" at its venue at 30 East 10th Street.

The musical seeks to answer "what really happened" one fateful night at the famous mansion in Duluth in 1977, when the body of heiress Elisabeth Congdon was found in her bed, and her nurse Velma Pietila left dead on a staircase.

The killings sparked a sensation, not least because the two people charged with masterminding their deaths were Congdon's daughter Marjorie Caldwell – who stood to inherit a fortune – and her husband Roger.

While Marjorie was acquitted (though was later imprisoned for arson), Roger was convicted and had it overturned, before he eventually confessed to his crime and took his own life in 1988.

The killings are hardly the stuff of comedy, but playwright Jeffrey Hatcher told the Pioneer Press there was plenty of farce in the way the pair allegedly carried them out.

"What I loved about it as a story is that it seems to be this classic murder mystery with a big house, fake robbery and huge inheritance at stake," he said. "Yet the alleged perpetrators seemed to come from (a place of) almost low comedy."

"It's like you wanted Cary Grant to play the murderer and instead you got Don Knotts trying to pull off a sleek, perfectly planned crime that fell apart miserably."

Chan Poling, who collaborated on the music, told CityPages that he was influenced by other "spooky, murder-mystery film music," such as "Chicago" and "Sweeney Todd."

"I was just fired up and jazzed up by these dark, Sondheim-ish harmonies that also had a bit of camp humor," he said. "It is operatic, too, in the characters and their ambitions and their tragic wrongheadedness."

Tickets for the show range from $15-$45 and can be bought here.

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