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After a year away, Moniteau County community members are itching to take the stage together again for this season’s annual community play at the Finke Theatre.

This year’s selection is “A Family Reunion to Die For,” a murder mystery about the Knotting Family Reunion. When Aunt Gretchen, Cousin Rachel and Cousin Stefan are all murdered, it’s up to “wannabe detective” Freddie to catch the murderer — with help from the audience — before they get to his wife, Christine.

The cast will take the stage at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Finke, 315 N. High St. in California. Tickets are $13.

Play director Ronnie Korte has spent a number of years as a cast member and will sit in the director’s chair for the first time this year. Korte, originally just a cast member for this year, said her chance came when the previous director had to step away.

Thus far, Korte said, it’s been a good experience.

“It is interesting to be on both sides of the curtain,” she said. “I have an amazing group of people who have helped me along the way.”

This year’s production includes cast members old and new, from veterans to first-time performers. Korte said the Finke is always striving to bring new people on board for its community productions and has a number of new additions for 2021.

This year’s cast includes: Pam Green, Pauline Summey, Lori Porter, Nathaniel Donley, Christina McMillian, Alex McGill, Cora Kuykendall, Ronnie Korte, Andrea Knipp, Dennis Donley, Rich Green, Jeff Korte, Preston McMillian, Kelly Hogan, Sonya Grotjan, Bennett Gatlin and Andy Korte.

Korte said that group ranges from middle-school students all the way to senior citizens; California Mayor Rich Green is even in the mix. Despite the broad range in age and experience, Korte said the casts of California’s community theater productions always end up as a tight-knit group.

“We all start off unsure of ourselves and kind of shy, but by the end, we are truly a family,” she said. “I have no doubt we will put on an entertaining show for our community.”

This year’s shows will mark a return for the Finke’s annual community play; the COVID-19 pandemic forced the 2020 edition to cancel, similar to many other community events last year.

Korte said the cancellation was “heartbreaking” for everyone involved, but the sentiment from organizers was that it was the right thing to do.

“I think the entire cast knew we would be back, and it just made us even more excited to start this year,” Korte said. “COVID made us all realize the importance of our family and our amazing community. I think California should really be proud of how we all came together and kept our citizens safe while trying to maintain our way of life.”

She added the members of the cast, just like everyone else, were ready for a return to “normal.” The hope, she said, is to bring those feelings to the stage and put on a great show for family and friends alike.

Korte said, in particular, she is proud of the cast’s commitment to the show — everyone involved is a volunteer, navigating around work commitments, school obligations and sporting events, and their families. Rehearsal starts in March, she said, and reflects a huge time commitment with plenty of practice.

“I love these people and can’t wait to show the community all their hard work,” Korte said.

The show’s sponsors are Earl and Marj Friedmeyer and RG Green Petroleum Consulting. In addition to in-person tickets, both performances will also be livestreamed with additional on-demand 48-hour rental for two weeks following the play. Tickets to the livestreams and the rental can be purchased at www.showtix4u.com

For more information about the Finke Theatre or to purchase in-person tickets for this week’s performances, visit finketheatre.com

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