BWW Review: MURDER FOR TWO at Florida Studio Theatre
Murder for Two is a great little musical comedy whodunit; full of eccentric characters, mystery, mayhem and of course a murder. In this case, the dearly departed is famed novelist Arthur Whitney who succumbs to a gunshot wound to the head as he enters his isolated mansion on the night of his surprise birthday party. Keeping with the usual storyline tradition, every guest at his party has a motive, as most attendees have been the subjects of the some of his bestselling novels.
The audience gets to follow the tales that each character states about their relationship to Arthur in this humorous and sometimes corny escapade that teases you with confusing facts. Does the bitter, overly dramatic Mrs. Whitney know about her husband's affair with their sultry prima ballerina friend? What's the deal with the very friendly yet agitating psychiatrist, Dr. Griff? Why is disgruntled couple Murray and Barb arguing all night long? Did the neighborhood gang of kids playing outside see something? Is it a coincidence Arthur's niece just graduated with a degree in helping detectives to solve a murder? Is there such a degree? Gumshoe Officer Marcus Moscowicz tries to make some sense out of it all in hopes he'll be promoted to detective. He must solve the crime though before the real detective arrives. But wait! There's more! Who took the ice cream?
Adding a twist to this madcap romp with a cast of two, one actor plays the detective while the other actor plays all of the suspicious subjects. The pace of this production is dizzying to watch let alone act. At the helm, if you will, (sorry I had to go there) is Paul Helm portraying Officer Moscowicz, on the case. Helm plays his character with warmth and kindness and tries very hard at gathering evidence, mulling over the facts and following procedures to the letter, by the book. Kyle Branzel is stunning as all of the other characters. With no time for costume changes and nothing more than wide brimmed red glasses to turn into Authur's widow, Branzel manages to transform from one character to another adding various mannerisms, vocal inflections and facial expressions.
Helm and Branzel play off each other so well and their timing is impeccable. This is one of those shows that can go terribly wrong in one second. These guys were up to the mighty task that would challenge any actor. And did I mention they had to sing and play the piano? This is a musical after all. Because of the lightheadedness of the show, we were not expecting dramatic vocal performances. I can tell you were not expecting them to actually play the piano either. When they spun the piano around, as the keyboard was not facing the audience at first, there were some audible oohs and ahhs that the audience sighed in appreciation of the use of their multiple talents. These roles were very demanding and I don't think you will find actors working so hard in harmony to bring this piece to life. I love that they occasionally break the 4th wall and speak directly to the audience. The night I was there they even included an audience member enticing her to the stage during one of their numbers. She was gracious and funny and blended right in.
Director Bruce Jordan did a fine job managing the timing of this fast paced comedy and all of the antics that it included. Tight direction mixed in with an opportunity to run with their zany characters made for a fun evening for all. And don't be in a rush to get up and exit at, supposedly, the end of the play. They have a little surprise for you!