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BWW Album Review: A KILLER PARTY Is More Fun Than Mystery


The Zoom musical gets a clever and entertaining cast recording

BWW Album Review: A KILLER PARTY Is More Fun Than Mystery

It seems like everyone's sense of humor is getting a little darker these days, and A Killer Party has figured out exactly how to tap into digital-theatre-era frustrations and jokes. A murder mystery that leans gleefully into the campiness of the genre more than the horror, the soundtrack to this video-conferenced musical is as far from deadly dull as it gets.

The show, which has a book by Rachel Axler and Kait Kerrigan, music by Jason Howland, and lyrics by Nathan Tysen, is something of a send-up of Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries. Really, it's a musicalized spoof of one of those cheesy whodunit parties, and the light, meta approach works with the digital format and the general mood of 2020 better than any serious mystery could. Think more The Play That Goes Wrong or A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder than dark and twisty thriller.

It's focused on the memoirs of a detective, played in a framing device by Carolee Carmello, who apparently is presenting us with one of her most memorable cases in musical form. The murder party in question, introduced in "A Killer Party," centers on a washed-up former theatre troupe, with the victim being Varthur McArthur (a delightful Michael James Scott). As much fun as he's clearly having, Jessica Keenan Wynn, as the younger version of Carmello's detective Justine Case, is having even more, tearing into her "I Want" song "Today's Detective" with immense panache. And, yes, let's get this out of the way too: almost every character has one of those deliciously corny, groan-worthy puns for names, and it just helps elevate the show's tone even further.

Truly, the plot doesn't matter so much as the opportunities it gives for some of Broadway's brightest (and bored-est) stars to let loose and tackle some wonderfully ridiculous, highly entertaining numbers. Technically, it's a show-within-a-show format: Varthur McArthur has written a murder mystery play and casts members of his troupe in the roles, so each real-life performer is playing a role within another role. The score's charm lies not in its storytelling as much as in its personality and its fantastic sense of how to let each cast member shine.

Alex Newell, for instance, plays designer Shea Crescendo, who's cast in the show-within-the-show as Rosetta Stone, an acrobat. (Go with it, it's more fun that way). And good luck getting Newell's major showcase, "Circus on the Sea," out of your head - it's the best kind of earworm, an old-school ballad with '80 flair. You'll also love Drew Gehling's almost hypnotic (though still goofy) "Breathe" and "Songus Interruptus," featuring Laura Osnes and Krystina Alabado as past and present leading ladies. Jackie Burns also makes a fantastic appearance on the big, belt-y anthem "Live Out Loud."

The show's greatest strength is also what makes it something of a niche proposition: it's highly meta, convoluted, and doesn't take anything seriously. Never is that more obvious than "Big Cat," a song built around a hilariously bizarre metaphor and a guest appearance by Jeremy Jordan playing an exaggerated version of himself on another '80s-esque power ballad. Everyone is committed to the weirdness a hundred and ten percent, and it only makes it more fun.

It's not a perfect album, for sure. The concept can get frustrating or wear on a bit, and really, the plot that we can hear is more a series of sketches than anything else. A Killer Party does have one thing going in its favor that far too few Broadway scores do these days, though. It knows exactly what it is and who it's for, and it has absolutely no problem focusing on that rather than trying to be everything for everybody. It's not something that necessarily needs to hit Broadway anytime soon, but it's a playful respite that puts a too-rare smile on the face after a really difficult year for the performing arts.

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