Why is it that every murder mystery is set in New England? Why does the detective himself always have his own dark secret? Why are there always questions but no answers?
In the intimate space of New World Stages, musical mystery duet Murder For Two keeps us all guessing "whodunit" in a case of the murder of a scandalous novelist who has secrets on everyone in his normally sleepy small town. A simple set, with a bare back wall, two small doors, some "Clue"-esque murder weapons, and a Steinway center stage, becomes the surprise party that quickly develops into the scene of the crime.
Jeff Blumenkrantz, equipped with not much more than a pair of glasses and a raised eyebrow, almost magically transforms into every guest of the party - the main suspects. From suppressed wife Mrs. Whitney, sultry ballerina Barette Lewis, and over achieving niece Steph, Blumenkratz makes each character so distinct that often you forget most of the time he's talking to himself. As officer (wannabe detective) Marcus, Brett Ryback embodies the spirit of the song-and-dance style of Old Broadway. Ryback gives us a leading man reminiscent of Seymour Krelborn; you want him to pull through because you feel kind of bad for him. Marcus shows off his knowledge in a song on the "Protocol" of being a detective while "accidentally" calling the chief. "You've been listening this whole time?" he squeals. "How embarrassing!" Both actors remain onstage for the 90-minute length of the show, with so much energy they could give all those Newsies a run for their money.
What's most impressive about Murder for Two is how well in-sync everyone is with every detail. Blumenkrantz and Ryback switch off playing piano so seamlessly, even performing an intricate duet with both their eyes shut. Jill BC DuBoff's sound design employs sound effects timed so well they feel natural. Jason Lyons' primarily green-and-purple lighting, changes so subtly creating a new scene immediately. The production is so well-rehearsed that it comes off spontaneous, and that's no easy feat, especially with how often the fourth wall is broken. The audience is addressed as "Lou," Marcus' partner. An unsuspecting patron is brought onstage to participate in a death scene. Even better, the actors were able to work through breaking character onstage (then again who wouldn't find the sultry ballerina playing the piano with her foot hilarious?). It is very apparent this production has been a labor of love, based on how effortless is all comes off. It makes for a better experience as an audience member when it's clear how much those involved in the production are enjoying themselves.
Murder for Two gets it right, because of how self-aware it is; we are allowed to indulge in just how ridiculous musical comedy can get through clever wordplay and snappy dialogue. Mainstream Broadway is satirized (a choir boy names examples of things he's seen worse than murder, stating "We saw a show called Mamma Mia!"). A dramatic scene ends with "Hatcha! Whoopee! Jazz!" a la Chicago. And in possibly the best anti-cell phone announcement, homage is paid to Patti Lupone's infamous show-stopping Gypsy meltdown. At one point, a suspect notes that in addition to the murder, "We've already seen the slow, painful death of the American Theatre." On the contrary, Murder for Two is one of the most original pieces I've seen in quite some time, ironically, bringing life back into musical theatre. Many of us walked out of the theatre still laughing from a truly entertaining and memorable piece of work.
Murder for Two began performances at New World Stages on November 6, and has extended its run from January 5 to March 16.
Photo's By: Joan Marcus
Review By: Kelcie Kosberg
Review By: Kelcie Kosberg