Highlands Little Theatre (HLT) is returning to the stage in Haliburton next month following a four-plus year hiatus.

The local troupe is made up of amateur performers committed to bringing community theatre to life in the Highlands. With long-time volunteers Jack Brezina and Kate Butler at the helm, the group has spent months rehearsing for four shows, running April 3 to 6 at the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion.

The performance is an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced – an unexpectedly humorous mystery, with plenty of twists, Brezina says.

“Most of us have skeletons in our closet – everybody on stage in this play has something they’re hiding. So, it’s a matter of figuring out, first of all, who are these people, and secondly, whodunnit? And you’ll have to stay until the very last minute to find out,” Brezina, who is directing the play, said.

The story centres on one of Christie’s famed detectives, Jane (Ms.) Marple, who investigates after a murder is announced in advance in a local newspaper in a small village. The novel was published in 1950.

There are some changes, Butler said, with playwright, Leslie Darbon, inserting more comedy into the play.

“It’s full of laughs,” Butler, who serves as producer, said, noting it has a similar feel to the recent Haliburton Highlands Secondary School production of Clue. “If people enjoyed Clue, then they’re going to love this show. It’s the same sort of hybrid of mystery and comedy.”

The cast is made up of a dozen Countybased performers, with a range of ages involved – the youngest in their teens, and oldest in their 70s.

Butler said she and Brezina started making plans for HLT’s return last fall. This will be the group’s first stage performance since 2019. They were weeks away from presenting Vintage Hitchcock – a play about a group of radio performers – in early 2020 but were forced to postpone, and eventually cancel, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than revisit that work, Butler said the group wanted to sink their teeth into something new and fun.

The main cast has been in place since before Christmas, with rehearsals running for the past three months. Bringing the story to life on stage are Rita Jackson, Victoria Bingham, John Jackson, Heather Norris, Ruth Carter, Bob Stiles, Karen Frybort, Sean Pennylegion, Jordan Kovacs, Scott Duggan, Norma Bingham, and Butler.

“The cool thing is we have some people who are brand new, with this being their first time performing, and then we have some real veterans – the old faithful who come out for every performance,” Brezina said.

HLT has a storied history in the community, Butler said, with its first production in 1978. Formed at the time by “a group of local people who wanted to put on a show,” the producer said that same mantra rings true today.

“It really is amazing to be bringing HLT back. It’s true community theatre – it’s about bringing people together to have a wonderful time,” Butler said.

“This will be an entertaining way to spend an evening or afternoon. It’s a chance to get back into live theatre, which has been missing for a while,” Brezina said, noting he’s come up with an interesting way to include the crowd. “We’re asking audience members to fill out a ballot during intermission saying who they think did it. All correct answers will go into a draw, with a chance to win one of several prizes.”

A Murder is Announced will run three evening productions April 3, 4 and 5, with an afternoon matinee April 6. Tickets are $25, available at Up River Trading in Minden and Haliburton, or at the door.