REVIEW: The Dinner Detective (Knickerbocker Hotel)


Murder mystery lame but the food’s good


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The Dinner Detective presents
The Dinner Detective
Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel Chicago
163 E. Walton Place, Chicago (map)
Open run | 
Tickets: $59.95 (includes dinner)  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes 

"My partner and I have never successfully solved a crime." That’s the way Det. Teddy Hugs introduces himself at the The Dinner Detective. So I can’t say its producers have achieved their goals: The Dinner Detective was founded on three simple ideas: We wanted to create a show with NO hokey costumes, NO lame scenarios and NO campy dialogue," say promoters of the interactive murder-mystery dinner show newly opened in Chicago after playing in Los Angeles since 2004.

Dinner Detective Murder Mystery Dinner - Chicago 001"Hokey," "lame" and "campy" are exactly the words to describe this raucous comic mystery where actors are disguised as members of the audience and you get to solve the crime. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun if you go into it with the right spirit (and enough spirits).

As you file into the dining room, you’re asked to choose your name for the evening — "something that’s not boring." Nametags at my table bore such names as Double Nickles, Coppertop, Shady and Zippy.

A host starts off the action with some introductory rules. During a meet-and-greet period, audience members are asked to interview each other in an effort to scope out who the criminal will be. The most creative question someone asked me was, "Have you ever wanted to kill a boss or an employee?" The person sitting next to you might be another theater goer, or one of the cast. (Hint: There are three public cast members and three ringers. The show doesn’t release the actors’ names or photos so as not to spoil the mystery.)

The food starts coming around next. Along with the show, your ticket buys you a full dinner starting with a couple of passed hors d’oeuvres, a tossed salad, a choice of entrees — grilled chicken breast with Dijon demiglace, grilled salmon with cucumber-dill relish or angel hair pesto primavera tossed with roasted vegetables, garlic oil, butter and pesto — with sides, dessert and coffee. The dinner, among the best food I’ve had at an event of this type, makes the package almost worth the ticket price. My plate featured perfectly cooked salmon and wonderful pureed potatoes. Drinks, at additional cost, range from $5.50 for pop to $11 for cocktails.

Dinner Detective Murder Mystery Dinner - Chicago 015The action alternates with the courses of meal. After the appetizers, the host starts interviewing various audience members who may or may not actually be actors, only to be interrupted by the arrival of Hugs and his partner, Det. Sam Cisco, who make an exaggerated swagger around the room.

Then the murder victim bursts in, dying with extreme hamminess. During the rest of the evening, amid assorted histrionics, the detectives interview and accuse various audience members, asking about what they do for a living, their hobbies and other such details. A woman who said she was an actress was urged to present a scene. Other audience members were prompted to reenact the death scene.

Periodically, the lamebrained detectives uncover a clue, which is passed around to the audience on photocopied sheets. Ultimately, everyone gets a chance to guess the murderer and the one who guesses right wins a prize.

If you go to this show with the idea that it’s going to be less intellectually challenging than a game of Clue, bring a group of friends and indulge liberally at the cash bar, you’ll likely have a great time.

Rating: ★★

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