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Mystery on Federal: How Long-time Mortuary Transformed into Dinner Theater

From 1934 to 2004, the mansion at 24th and Federal Boulevard in Denver  provided comfort for the dead and their families. What better place than a mortuary to solve a murder, have a nice meal and make a few friends? For the past 14 years, Carlos Cuellar, whose Texas family was in the restaurant business, and his wife, performer Marne Wills-Cuellar, have run a quirky murder mystery dinner theater in this storied location

They take the #IAMDENVER team on a tour and explain how the Adams Mystery Playhouse came to entertain Denver.

Take a Tour of Adams Mystery Playhouse

Get to Know the Owners of Adams Mystery Playhouse

"Hi, I'm Carlos Cuellar, one of the owners of the Adams mystery playhouse. I married a performer. That's pretty much it. I tell people, I used to have a regular job.

I grew up in the hospitality business back in Texas. I'm originally from Dallas. 

My family started the El Chico restaurants. It actually started off as an enchilada and taco stand in Texas.  At one time, there was four or five in Metro Denver, but they sold out to a larger chain and I don't believe any of them are in Colorado. There are still ones back in Texas and other states. And, at one point, it was one of the largest Hispanic-owned businesses in the country.

So, I kind of think we know customer service. That's one of the things we pride ourselves on. And a lot of people say, ‘I don't know who trained you how to talk to people and take care of them, but whoever did they do a wonderful job.’ I think my folks had a lot to do with it because I worked in the restaurant with them. 

We get to have a lot of fun here and show people a good time, and that's, that's very important. I feel."

"All right, well, let's see. I am Marne Wills-Cuellar and I was in sales for many, many years. I got into a church band playing the flute. And the leader of the - it was a kind of a progressive church - and the leader of the band said, ‘you're very funny and we're starting an improv troupe to write a television show. I'd like you to be part of it.’ And I said, ‘oh, that sounds kind of fun.’ So we got into Improv. I loved it, fell into it like a duck to water. And several of us grouped up together. 

We had a group called Group Therapy. We did shows for corporations and for the U.S. Military overseas. And that was just very wonderful all the way around. We were together 12 years in between the tours overseas. 

I would come back and book talent as a booking agent and several customers - corporate customers -would call me and say, ‘do you have a murder mystery dinner?’ And I said, ‘well, I know a couple of troops who do it.’ And I booked him - and it didn't go very well. Clients wanted their money back, and the actors got drunk, and it just didn't go very well. So, then I thought, well wait a minute, we're performers, let's try it. Let’s see if we can put together a murder mystery theater, dinner theater, which we did. 

So, in the early days - 30 years ago now… starting in 1990, we did shows for corporations basically in hotel ballrooms. And that was a lot of fun. In the meantime, Carlos and I got married and he said, ‘why don't we do these for the public?’ And I thought really, okay, let's try it. And we rented a space at a bed and breakfast. We were there 12 years. And we did them for the public, and it was absolutely wonderful. It took off. It was great. 

Well, by the time we got to the year 2004 or 2005, we knew we needed our own home. And so, we searched around for different properties, found this wonderful space that has the large dining room, that has parking, that has the mansion, and it was just a marriage made in heaven. 

So, um, here we are. And one of our compatriots wanted to name it ‘Adams Mystery Playhouse.’ That's not our last name, but we thought, why not? It's the beginning of the alphabet. Um, of course, no one uses phone books anymore, so it doesn't really matter. 

But, here we are Adam's mystery play house 14 years later, and we're going strong."