BY C.C. GARSON
Buy tickets today, now, this very minute because I suspect this murder-mystery-comedy-musical is going to sell out instantly. And it should.
In this delightfully entertaining, ridiculous and sublime (or should that be sublimely ridiculous?) 90-minute roller-coaster, Brett Ryback plays the would-be detective Marcus and Jeff Blumenkrantz plays everybody else — and that’s a lot of bodies to play! The clever book by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair (who also wrote the music and the lyrics, respectively) hits all the classic murder-mystery tropes: the mysterious mansion in a remote area, the assembled guests with motives, the young but eager policeman desperate to make detective but haunted by tragedy. The exposition is handled in a breathtaking opening number by the rubber-faced, elastic-limbed Blumenkrantz, who introduces the six guests waiting in the dark to surprise the best-selling author Arthur Whitney on his birthday. The suspects include Whitney’s sudden widow Dahlia, who gave up her dreams of show biz after they were married; a bickering couple, a psychiatrist, a prima ballerina, and Steph, an earnest graduate student.
Although Blumenkrantz has the show-stopping role, he’s well matched by Ryback’s desperate attempts to retain control, to seem in charge, and to not blow his chance at making detective. Other characters also making appearances, though two never make it to the stage: Marcus’s boss on the other end of his cell phone and Lou, the local officer on the scene. Marcus often addresses Lou (and in a funny bit of stage work has a conversation with Lou’s shadow), and makes him as tangible as the others.
The music is straightforward and catchy, with clever lyrics and intelligent uses of reprises. And despite the zaniness and absurdity, Steph’s song “He Needs A Partner” is quite touching, as are several of “her” scenes with Marcus. Scott Schwartz, director, has found just the right balance between high-energy goofiness and nuts-and-bolts clarity and the actors bring such specificity to their work there is never a question who is encountering whom. Running gags always pay off and the difficulty of the multiple roles and being on-stage accompanists (both actors play the piano throughout the show) is often mined for humor — there is a very funny solution to needing to get to the piano after a character has been shot. It all runs seamlessly and although I was having so much fun I didn’t want it to end, it was also the perfect length – no flab, no extras.
The show was originally performed by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair (composer and lyricist) and premeired with them in the roles in 2011 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater where they won a 2011 Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Musical. Blumenkrantz and Ryback joined the show in New York for its sold-out run at Second Stage Theatre Uptown at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre, where it was extended several times.
I suspect this production at New World Stages will also enjoy the same reception. So stop reading this review and go see it now!
Murder For Two by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, directed by Scott Schwartz; produced by Jayson Raitt, Barbara Whitman, Steven Chaikelson and Second Stage Theatre with scenic design by Beowulf Boritt, costume design by Andrea Lauer, lighting design by Jason Lyons, sound design by Jill BC DuBoff and choreography by Wendy Seyb. At New World Stages, 340 West 5oth Street. Tickets can be purchased at the New World Stages Box Office or through Telecharge.com (212-239-6200).
Through January 5th, 2014; Running time: 90 minutes
WITH: Jeff Blumenkrantz (The Suspects) and Brett Ryback (Marcus)