Review Roundup: MURDER FOR TWO at New World Stages

Producers Jayson Raitt, Barbara Whitman, Steven Chaikelson and Second Stage Theatre present Murder for Two, currently playing Off-Broadway at New World Stages - Stage 5 (340 West 50th Street). Direct from a critically-acclaimed, sold-out run at Second StageTheatre Uptown (Carole Rothman, Artistic Director, Casey Reitz, Executive Director and Christopher Burney, Curator and Associate Artistic Director), Murder for Two began performances at New World Stages - Stage 5 on Wednesday, October 23, 2013 and officially opened last night, November 6, 2013.

Everyone is a suspect in Murder for Two, a hilarious musical murder mystery with a twist: one actor (Brett Ryback) investigates the crime, the other plays all of the suspects (Jeff Blumenkrantz) and they both play the piano! A zany blend of classic musical comedy and madcap mystery, this 90-minute whodunit is a highly theatrical duet loaded with killer laughs. Murder for Two features book and music by Joe Kinosian, book and lyrics by Kellen Blair and direction by Scott Schwartz.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: Written by Joe Kinosian (book and music) and Kellen Blair (book and lyrics), "Murder for Two," which won a prestigious Jefferson Award in Chicago for best new musical in 2011, is an ingenious miniature musical in the form of a snazzy vaudevillian double act. The authors and the director, Scott Schwartz, deploy minimal stage resources to maximum effect. With just two actors, a piano and a prop or two, the show spins out a curlicued comic mystery story animated by funny, deftly turned songs...Once Marcus starts tangling with the oddly assorted suspects, "Murder for Two" gains elevation, although a tendency toward dopey humor is never entirely vanquished. But if the jokes in the book sometimes wheeze, the performers, remarkably, never do, even as they work up a considerable sweat under the pedal-to-the-floor direction of Mr. Schwartz.

Jeremy Gerard Bloomberg: "Murder for Two," a musical with at least eight characters for two actors and a Steinway baby grand, falls into that dread summer-fare genre, the Agatha Christie spoof. Thanks to the elastic skills and collegial charm of those two actors, and a score that's several cuts above parody, it's a winning diversion.

Adam Feldman, TimeOut NY: Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair's score is a silly-clever throwback to 1950s novelty cabaret, and director Scott Schwartz milks the show for every drop of tomfoolery: vaudeville bits, sound effects, meta winks, audience participation. Like many a lark, Murder for Two takes time to get off the ground. But after flapping its wings for a couple of scenes, it wins you over with droll writing and winsome performances. Along with acting and singing, Ryback and Blumenkrantz also accompany each other on piano; if you like your show-business men hardworking, you may end up smitten.

Jesse Oxfeld, NY Observer: It's worth noting that Murder for Two takes a while to get going. I suspect that's Mr. Schwartz's direction, which leaves matters a bit slower-paced and rather mechanical feeling in the early moments. But once things get going, the play is a light, perfect, funny summer delight. Simply, Murder for Two kills.

Jason Clark, Entertainment Weekly: A production like Murder for Two lives and dies by its performers, and director Scott Schwartz found two aces. Ryback is engaging as the wide-eyed cop looking for his big professional break; at times, he looks and acts uncannily like Broadway vet Roger Bart - with the same on-stage energy. But the show belongs to Blumenkrantz. In a very funny, all-stops-out, comic sprint, he portrays everyone from a dweeby Nancy Drew-wannabe niece of the victim, a former dancer with ''m'hip issues'' and, most fun of all, select members of a boys' choir, which allows Blumenkrantz to perform an entire number on his knees using only a baseball cap to differentiate the youngsters. It's a marathon role, but Blumenkrantz is the first to the finish line.

Tom Sellar, Village Voice: The second half moves far more fluidly than the first, and a few devices (especially the presence of an unseen character offstage) don't land as well as they should. But Blumenkrantz and Ryback give relentlessly peppy, thoroughly animated performances, drawing sharp caricatures and timing the farce with showy panache. For me, watching this sprightly caper felt like polishing off a whole plate of ice cream for dinner: a binge on sugar and air, but full of vanilla fun.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: "Murder for Two," a two-character spoof by Joe Kinosian (book & music) and Kellen Blair (book & lyrics) of an old-fashioned stage whodunit, is the first musical produced by Second Stage at its Uptown venue. Pity it lands with such a thud. The premise is certainly promising: one actor, a proficient pianist who can also carry a tune, plays a cop working his first homicide, while a second singer-actor, also adept at the keyboard, plays about a dozen murder suspects. But, ouch! The aggressive comedic style adopted by helmer Scott Schwartz is about as subtle as a gun to the head.

Joe Dziemianowicz, Daily News: Scott Schwartz's direction is miscalibrated. He does no favors for Ryback, likable in his Off-Broadway debut, and Blumenkrantz, a veteran chameleon, by pitching their performances so hard and so fast. Instead of pulling you in, they push you away. For an audience, that's deadly.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: Co-writers Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair and director Scott Schwartz set a pace that's never less than frantic, as if speed alone translated into laughs. Blumenkrantz in particular is a whirling dervish of hyperactivity. He dons oversize glasses for Dahlia and pitches up his voice for the younger women, but the individual characters don't register much.

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