BWW Review: MURDER FOR TWO at Playhouse On Park
As the magic of the holidays drifts away, the lights are taken down and people settle in to the muted grays of January, having something fun, distracting, and entertaining to keep your mind off the cold weather and the dreary days can be a real find. Good news - MURDER FOR TWO, Playhouse on Park's current production, is just what the doctor ordered to fight the winter blahs. It is a funny, fast-paced, murder mystery with a few twists, and it starts 2019 off with a (literal) bang.
Before seeing this production, I was unfamiliar with the two-man musical, MURDER FOR TWO. But one doesn't have to have experience with the show to thoroughly enjoy it (I certainly did!). MURDER FOR TWO is a fast paced (90 minutes, no intermission), two-actor musical by Joe Kinosian (Book and Music) and Kellen Blair (Book and Lyrics), with two key, but critical conceits. First, both actors take turns playing the singular piano that features prominently onstage (and often, brilliantly play together). The second unique thing about MURDER FOR TWO is the casting. One actor (John Grieco) plays Marcus the "detective" while the other (Trevor Dorner) plays all ten of the murder suspects. The play, which is set at the New England home of mystery novelist Arthur Whitney, begins with the murder of the title, that of the Mr. Whitney himself. Quickly, and in hilarious fashion, Marcus questions the suspects and tries to determine who the nefarious perpetrator could be before time runs out. As this is a mystery, I won't spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that the path to the conclusion is filled with toe-tapping songs and hilarious banter between the two actors.
Since MURDER FOR TWO includes just the two actors, both have numerous opportunities to shine and to show off their skill. John Grieco does a great job portraying Marcus as a slightly damaged man, unsure of himself, but trying to prove he is up to solving the mystery at hand. Mr. Grieco has a strong voice and his piano playing is quite impressive. Most noteworthy is his ability to keep a straight face while playing off the antics of Trevor Dorner's crazy characters. Mr. Dorner effortlessly switches between ten distinct characters, from Delilah Whitney (the widow), to bickering couple Barb and Murray Flandon (favorites of mine), to Steph Whitney, Mr. Whitney's niece, and many others. It is quite impressive how Mr. Dorner keeps all the various characters straight and, through subtle movements or a strategic costume piece, clearly conveys who he is playing at the moment. Like Mr. Grieco, Mr. Dorner is also a very skilled piano player and is given many opportunities to show those skills off (and a solid singing voice as well.) The performances from these two men are an impressive sight and make MURDER FOR TWO a thrilling and entertaining evening.
Kyle Metzger's staging and direction of MURDER FOR TWO works extremely well on the Playhouse on Park stage. There is a lot going on, which could cause the audience to get lost and confused, but Mr. Metzger keeps the pace just right, ensuring that the plot moves forward without losing people. He also ensures the actors thoughtfully use the black box space, creating an intimate performance no matter where one may be seated. Musical Director Melanie Guerin has a very unique role to play in this show, as she is responsible for providing both vocal and instrumental direction to the actors on stage. The music (played and sung) is energetic and fun. The songs themselves aren't that memorable, but they work well in the context of the performance. Scenic Designer David Lewis' manor house setting provides the perfect balance of stereotypical murder mystery setting with some extremely creative touches (loved the Clue: Master Detective board game placement, btw). Chris Bell's lighting design keeps up with the fast-pace of the play and does a great job punctuating the various scenes. Finally, Rider Q. Stanton's sound design creates the right amount of atmosphere - both the mysterious and ominous and fun and frivolous.
Overall, Playhouse on Park's MURDER FOR TWO is simply a fun night at the theatre. It has all the elements of an entertaining show - mystery and intrigue, fun and well-executed musical numbers, funny (though sometimes predictable) jokes, and an extremely talented cast who both give 110% from beginning to end. It is a simple, yet extremely enjoyable musical and is something that can be enjoyed by all ages. But a show like MURDER FOR TWO doesn't come around often, so be sure to catch it before it is gone!
MURDER FOR TWO runs at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT through February 3rd. For more information, call 860-523-5900 ext. 10 or visit www.PlayhouseOnPark.org. Playhouse on Park is located at 244 Park Road, West Hartford, CT 06119
Top and Mid Photos courtesy of Meredith Longo. Bottom photo courtesy of Rich Wagner.