By Charlie Williams, Oakton High School 

The Roaring ’20s were long romanticized as a time of lawbreakers, lovers, and crime stories that still thrill to this day. Woodgrove High School capitalized on this rich history in the best way with its production of Moonshine Murders, a show as clear and fiery in its delivery as its title suggests.

The play follows the tumultuous story of Foxy’s Den, a speakeasy plagued by mob violence and corruption in 1928. Amid the drama of a secret moonshine operation burns the affair between singer Violet Sanata and mobster Bugsy Moronski. Everything is thrown into chaos with Bugsy’s shocking murder, and as the mystery continues to grow, patrons of Foxy’s Den find themselves at risk of losing much more than their access to illegal liquor.

Anchoring the plot of the show was Emily Reeps as Violet Sanata. Commanding the stage with her soft yet soulful voice, Reeps brought the lovestruck songbird to life in songs like “Turn Off Your Light Mr. Moon Man,” sung tenderly with Bugsy (Luke Murtaugh) just a few scenes prior to the latter’s death. Violet’s character was a foil to the harsh world she found herself in, and Reeps delivered her role perfectly.

By comparison to Violet Sanata, Scarlett Star was a chiseled caricature of what a speakeasy showgirl is imagined to look and act like. Crude, cocky, and masterfully portrayed by Hailey Grieve, Scarlett was an early nod in the show to the antiquated roots from which its story was pulled. Grieve sang alluringly over smoky instrumentals, her entire persona acting as the introduction into the dark and dangerous setting of Foxy’s Den.

Much of Moonshine Murders’ magic comes from the special effects of the play, effects that might not have worked in a non-COVID setting. Head of cinematography Makenna Buhler worked to make the audience feel as if they were there in that Roaring 20s world, and her work paid off in subtle ways. Scenes with time-lapses featured an impressive clock face superimposed across the stage. The romantic moonlit ballad between Bugsy and Violet was accompanied by the faded image of an antique record player and the scratchy music of the times. This aesthetic was a key facet of the production, and such cinematic tricks were essential in making the 1920s setting seem as real as possible.

Another major aspect of the show’s success lay in its lighting effects, also headed by Makenna Buhler. It was a stark change of style when the lighting changed from the warm glow of the speakeasy to a moonlit setting that was practically silver-screen quality by contrast. Buhler’s work built upon the idea of cinema from the 1920s being entirely in black and white, and such styles were given homage in the production.

Dark, humorous, and surprisingly touching, Woodgrove High School’s rendition of Moonshine Murders boasted a talented cast and effects crew that successfully told a story as beautiful as it was thrilling. With Mr. Moon Man’s light casting a silvery glow upon the production, it wouldn’t have felt out of place in the real Roaring ’20s so long ago.

Watch it here.

[This review is part of a series published in a partnership between Loudoun Now and  The Cappies, a writing and awards program that trains high school theater and journalism students to be expert writers, critical thinkers, and leaders.]