BWW Review: MURDER FOR TWO Kills the Cabaret at Stages Repertory Theatre
MURDER FOR TWO is a daring musical comedy that asks two actors to command the stage for an hour and a half with multiple characters, no costume changes, and all the while accompanying each other on piano. It's funny and smart, but also challenging for audiences who have to use a bit more imagination than they are normally asked to bring. Stages Repertory Theatre continues its winning streak of bringing Houston some of the best shows to do in small spaces. It also cements Mitchell Greco and Steven Jones as the "go to guys" whenever you want to do an adventurous romp rather than a safe bet.
The first thing you have to mention about this show is that one actor plays an investigator of a murder case and the other plays over a dozen suspects trapped in a room. Oh and need I mention again that not only do these actors have to sing, act, and dance around, but they also play a pretty intense piano score while they are doing all of this? I sure hope actors Ben Miller and Trace Pool got hazard pay for daring to even contemplate pulling this off. Their performances and piano playing make every other musical theater actor this year look like they are lazy and limp. They give what amounts to the most dazzling performance of the season here. And in the case of Ben Miller, the most dazzling 13 or 14 performances of the season. They are the reason to see this one, and I am in awe. The pair are masters of physical comedy, and Miller uses that to portray each suspect altering everything he can. They can both sing very well, and they pull off the piano parts making it look easy.
The show itself sprung out of workshops in NYC and was originally just meant to kill some time. It's an ingenious concept and a neat hat trick. You combine Agatha Christie with Howl At the Moon piano bar vibes, and what do you get? This musical. The biggest problem for the show is that gimmick is exactly what it offers and not much more. I doubt anybody is going to walk out singing any of the songs, and I dare anybody to say the mystery narrative makes any sense. I think THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEEP may have done this better and, certainly, A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER offers a splashier variation of one actor playing an entire cast of characters. MURDER FOR TWO is cute and clever, but it is small in scope and execution.
Stages offers two brilliant performers who bring it to life very well and also a wonderful set by Jodi Bobrovsky. Normally MURDER FOR TWO is done cabaret style with no dressing, but the gothic scenery here takes the show to a higher level. Steven Jones anchors the musical direction nicely, and it left me wondering how he coached the performers on their piano parts. They are consistent and spot-on throughout. The direction by Mitchell Greco is outstanding, and together the entire team makes great use of the small intimate space.
MURDER FOR TWO is an exciting piece of theater that is daring in its concept and brought to life by Stages with technical pizzazz. Ben Miller and Trace Pool deliver amazing performances with crackerjack comic timing. The only grumble you may have is there is not a tune you can hum, and the score is as dense with words as any Sondheim piece. It's just a simple cabaret show where someone gets whacked. If you love murder combined with theatrical games and piano bar cabaret this one is for you.
MURDER FOR TWO plays at Stages Repertory Theatre through June 16th. For tickets visit stagestheatre.com or call 713-527-0123.