Thursday, August 15, 2013

When Murder Can Be Hysterical

There is nothing like being asked by a friend to join you at the theater when you really have no idea what you’re seeing. I knew it was a show at the uptown Second Stage Theatre, but that was about it.

What a treat I received with Murder for Two!

This musical mixes an Agatha Christie type murder mystery with a Carol Burnett sketch comedy routine. Two actors tell the story of an investigator who arrives at the scene of a crime to decide ‘who-done-it’ when meeting all the suspects at a party. And all the suspects are played by one actor. As an author, I loved that the premise was set around the killing of…an author.

I have always enjoyed Jeff Blumenkrantz from How to Succeed… to A Class Act (to many other shows). But I never realized how incredibly talented he is until after this show. He plays every suspect, switching back and forth (many times in the middle of a song) - male and female without ever changing a costume.  I was completely exhausted for him by the end of the 90 minute show. (And I thought doing Das Barbecue was a hard show! Wow!) I left with such a newfound appreciation for him.

The writing team
I don’t know Brett Ryback as he has done much regional theater work, but I think New York has a new star on their hands. Charming, talented, perfect comic timing, amazing voice – and a wonderful ‘yin’ to Blumenkrantz’s ‘yang’.

This musical comedy is cleverly written by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair. Both wrote the book and Kinosian supplies the score which covers a wide range of old-time genres which Blair has a knack for writing perfect rhymes that makes this former BMI Musical Theatre writer smile.

The two actors are also composers in their own right, so the sense of the evening has a feel of actually watching the creative team who put the entire thing together. (Almost like when Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen allowed actors across the world to start playing ‘them’ in [title of show].) While I loved the actors by night’s end, I actually felt I was getting to know Kinosian and Blair as well; something that doesn’t happen every time you see a musical. (Many people forget the writing team.)

The set design by Beowulf Boritt is kept simple in this musical, yet every single piece on the stage is used at some point. (I love the nod to the board game CLUE.) I would not want to give anything away, but let me send out kudos to the sound designer Jill B C Du Boff who (for me) was another character in the show. Scott Schwartz has directed this 90 minutes as a face-paced romp that never let’s up or allows an audience to even think of an intermission.

And did I mention the main piece on the stage is a grand piano. A piano that both men play…yes, they are the ‘pit’ in this musical. It is stunning to watch the choreography as they switch back and forth to accompany themselves or each other, often in the middle of a song. And when they sit and play together and smile at the audience, we are pulled right in as they say to us “isn’t this the best time you’ve had in a long time?”

Yes. I think it is.

Thank you, Second Stage for another great night of theater! The show only runs until August 25th. Get to the upper West side now! 

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