Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Review: Chemistry Counts in MURDER FOR TWO

Ian Lowe and Joe Kinosian. Photos by Joan Marcus

This two-man tour de force musical comedy mystery is killing it on stage at The Old Globe in San Diego - or, rather, it’s killing someone - and that someone is none other than Great American Novelist, Arthur Whitney. Unfortunately, this is one birthday party the much-hated author will never get to enjoy since he takes a bullet to the head in the first few minutes of the musical with all of his guests in attendance.

It’s a nod to the classic whodunit mysteries of Agatha Christie and others who created a legion of armchair detectives eager to unravel the mystery of the week along with the story’s investigator. This time that story is set to music, and some cleverly-turned lyrics, by the show’s creators Kellen Blair (book & lyrics) and Joe Kinosian (book & music). The compact production, skillfully directed by Scott Scwartz, is a breathless 90-minute sprint to the finish line bursting with laughs all the way through the juicy revelation of who ultimately is responsible for Whitney’s demise and on into the curtain call.

In addition to the title of co-creator, Kinosian also adds “actor” to his credits, performing all of the suspects (which number a dozen or more at last count). He’s joined by fellow partner in crime, Ian Lowe, who appeared in the Off-Broadway cast, as Officer Marcus, the enthusiastic young policeman hoping to earn a real detective badge (to replace the mock-up he carries in his pocket) in under an hour before the true detective arrives. Both are gifted pianists, and like their quirky cadre of characters, are extremely likable. Chemistry counts in this kind of Vaudevillian farce and these two have it in spades. Plus, their competitive piano shenanigans are as hilarious as the story itself.

Baby-faced Kinosian creates immediately distinguishable characters and displays an enviable ability to switch back and forth between them with lightning precision. Especially impressive are his conversations while playing several of them simultaneously. Whitney’s stodgy psychiatrist, an eccentric ballerina, the bickering couple next door, three young choirboys, the quirky widow, and the victim’s niece, who has romantic aspirations of helping solve the case and get the detective all in one, are among the bunch.

Murder For Two premiered in Chicago in 2011 where it received the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Musical but I first saw the show in a developmental production in San Francisco at 42nd Street Moon prior to its Chicago opening. Kinosian played the suspects then and I remember thinking how smart and fresh the show felt, and what a terrific showcase it was for his unique set of talents. To see it now polished to a spit shine and running tighter than ever is a happy full circle for me.

This is a production you could stage simply with only a piano and a few props or one you could gussy up with a lot of distracting production values. Since much of the theatre magic must be created on the spot before it vaporizes in the next moment, set designer Beowulf Boritt goes the simple route, providing a kind of blank backstage canvas for the actors to utilize. Its the perfect choice. Sound effects (Jill BC Du Boff) and Lighting (Jason Lyons) are also beautifully integrated to enhance the “out of thin air” effect.

If laughter is good for what ails you, Murder For Two is just what the doctor ordered. Catch it now through March 1st and see if you can solve whodunit before the secret is revealed on stage. Either way, you’re guaranteed to have a great time.

January 24 - March 1, 2015
The Old Globe
1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park, San Diego, CA
Tickets: (619) 23-GLOBE or 

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