Ryan David Paul
If you have been to the theatre in the last twenty years, then I am sure you are familiar with the announcement asking you to turn off all your mobile devices. Popular belief is that we silence our phones in order to not disturb the actors and our fellow audience members, and this is true, to a certain extent. More importantly, the performers on stage want us to be present in the moment; they want us as an audience to join them on the journey. After all, they do this multiple times a week, but for many, it is new and exciting. Most live theatre is a dialogue between you, sitting in the dark, and those storytellers on stage. This is important to remember, specifically as you embark on the ride that is Murder for Two.
Here is the basic idea “Officer Marcus Moscowicz is a small town policeman with dreams of making it to detective. One fateful night, shots ring out at the surprise birthday party of Great American Novelist Arthur Whitney and the writer is killed . . . fatally. With the nearest detective an hour away, Marcus jumps at the chance to prove his sleuthing skills—with the help of his silent partner, Lou. But whodunit? Did Dahlia Whitney, Arthur’s scene-stealing wife, give him a big finish? Is Barrette Lewis, the prima ballerina, the prime suspect? Did Dr. Griff, the overly-friendly psychiatrist, make a frenemy? Marcus has only a short amount of time to find the killer and make his name before the real detective arrives . . . and the ice cream melts!” (http://murderfortwomusical.com/about/). The catch is, there are only two actors on stage, one investigating the crime, and the other playing all the suspects, and both playing the piano.
Directing this madcap adventure for the Utah Shakespeare Festival, a regional premiere by the way, is Brad Carroll whose most recent Festival credits include South Pacific, Into the Woods, and Anything Goes. Carroll describes Murder for Two as “part Murder Mystery, part Marx Brothers’ movie and part old-fashioned musical. Though set in ‘present day’ it takes place in ‘an old isolated mansion’ in New England that feels like a real throwback to earlier, and somewhat romanticized days of yore—buying us all the desired trappings of ‘then’ juxtaposed with cell phone communication and contemporary references of ‘now’” (Director’s Notes, Utah Shakespeare Festival).
Murder for Two came from the minds of Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair who met at a BMI musical workshop in 2008 where they were randomly paired up to work on a project. While the project they were assigned did not go so well, they both enjoyed the collaboration and began working on ideas for new musicals. In an interview for The Playbill Collector, Kellen Blair stated that he and Kinosian, when thinking about a new project asked themselves, “‘what do we have that might give us an edge?’ And the answer, frankly, was Joe. He’s an amazing piano-playing-singer-actor and we knew we could use that to our advantage. Since we had Joe there from the very beginning, we were able to show producers exactly what the show was going to be from the first reading. We knew that was a large asset. We thought about what we both liked which was Agatha Christie and the Marx Brothers. The way that they incorporated music to their comedy was exciting. The structure of a murder mystery seemed great for a first show because we knew the detective would have to interview the different suspects, which gave us a pretty straightforward outline from the very beginning” (http://theplaybillcollector.com/interviews/interview-with-murder-for-two-writer-kellen-blair).
After some early workshops, the musical premiered at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and ran for seven months before making the leap to off-Broadway and now throughout the country.
For Director Carroll, while the uniquely crafted production creates interest, it is the story that drives this play with music forward. Murder for Two “is a Murder Mystery that happens to develop into a tour-de-force performance for two actors, not the other way around. Story, character, and moment-to moment dramatic stakes are what keep us ‘in the car’ during this wild and hilarious ride. Otherwise it can quickly become two guys running around the stage doing funny voices. The story is the thing; the hijinx and hilarity are the result and the reward.” (Director’s Notes). Bruce C. Lee, publications manger for the Utah Shakespeare Festival, adds that for this production, “the theatrical experience itself will be very important, as will imagination and the willing suspension of disbelief. But it will mainly be hilarious.”
In a 2014 interview, Joe Kinosian, was asked what message he hoped the audience would take home from Murder for Two. He responded, “Because the physical world of Murder for Two is largely invented by the two actors, I guess there is an implied message of ‘hey, we can put on a show by ourselves!’ It's very collaborative, with the two actors pulling together to make the show happen, while two characters pull together to solve the crime, and if there's any real-life parallel to that message, it's how my writing partner, Kellen Blair, and I have definitely found we work better together than apart” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/danny-groner/it-takes-two-a-short-inte_b_4674178.html).
Collaboration is key in Murder for Two, not only in the chemistry that is essential for the two performers and the timing that is necessary for a show like this to be successful, but the interaction with the audience as well. This production grabs hold of the audience and brings them into the story, in some cases, becoming a character themselves. Director Brad Carroll wants the audience members to be invited into this crazy world and realize that their imagination and participation is key to the play’s success. The reward for those theatregoers who are willing to accept this invitation, according to Carroll, “is a delightful, surprising, high energy, side-splittingly funny time in the theatre” (Directors Notes).
Murder for Two is one of the first plays to be produced in the brand new Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theatre. This amazing space will allow opportunities previously unavailable to the Utah Shakespeare Festival audiences for intimate evenings of theatre. Murder for Two is bred for a space like this. The 2016 season is a banner year for the Festival, with the inauguration of new theaters, upgraded amenities, and innovative productions. This is a season not to be missed and Murder for Two is a play to die for, (See what I did there.) Just remember to read the Playbill, applaud for the actors and please, silence your phone, we need to talk to you.