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Whodunnit? Buffalo's USS Little Rock to star in a dinner murder mystery show

USS Little Rock, July 2021
Michael Mroziak, WBFO
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The stern of the USS Little Rock, as seen from Canalside, while guests dine on a July afternoon

It’s a murder mystery that will unfold before visitors to the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park. Beginning this week, a dinner theater production will be held aboard the USS Little Rock. And the ship itself is one of the stars of the show.

The play “Man Overboard!” will be staged aboard the ship this Wednesday and the two Wednesdays following. Proceeds raised from ticket sales will support the park’s ongoing operations.

Putting on the dinner theater is Joel Dombrowski of Buffalo History Tours.

“The murder mystery itself is set in the Cold War, right about when the USS Little Rock is being retrofitted with state of the art missile technology,” he said. “The murder mystery centers around the theft of top secret material associated with those big blue missiles, and you have to solve it.”

Guests will get to interview the characters, who are fictional, but Dombrowski adds real historic facts about the ship will help guests solve the mystery.

Paul Marzello, president and chief executive officer of the naval and military park, says hosting murder mystery dinner theater is completely different from the park’s traditional programming. But he feels this will be the right mix of reverence, levity and education.

“You're going to get a nice dinner, you're going to get a beautiful sunset, you're going to be entertained by Joel and his acting troupe,” he said. “But more importantly, we were interested in having the setting on an authentic US naval ship. So you will get a bit of education in addition to being entertained, and what better combination will that be to have a good time and a little bit of education thrown in as well.”

Marzello notes the decommissioned USS Little Rock resting on Buffalo’s waterfront was, in its days of service, the flagship for the Second Fleet and the Sixth Fleet.

Dombrowski has staged past murder mystery plays at Buffalo landmarks including the grain silos at Buffalo Riverworks and Hotel Lafayette. He looks forward to hosting Buffalo History Tour’s latest production aboard the Little Rock.

“Anytime I go to a historic place, the venue becomes a character. I had to talk to the experts here at the naval park to find out all the history that I needed to do to know and to weave that into the narrative,” he said. “The ship itself becomes a character in the production but also there's some limitations. We've got steps and stairs and some places that that are no-goes and whatnot. But it's all taken into account and blended in.”