‘Murder for Two’ at Philadelphia Theatre Company

Whodunit? Who killed the famous author? Was it his wife, his mistress, or his psychiatrist? Maybe it was the author’s friends Murray and Barb, the ones who introduce themselves as “the feisty old couple.” Maybe it was Henri, the dancing French fireman. (Yes, a dancing French fireman.) Or maybe it was the boys’ choir that just happens to be hanging around the author’s spooky mansion. (Yes, a boys’ choir. And yes, a spooky mansion.)

Ian Lowe and Kyle Branzel in Philadelphia Theatre Company’s ‘Murder For Two.' Photo by Jim Cox.

Ian Lowe and Kyle Branzel in Philadelphia Theatre Company’s ‘Murder for Two.’ Photo by Jim Cox.

If you’re looking for suspense and thrills, Murder for Two is not the show for you. Even though the murderer is eventually revealed, the solution doesn’t completely make sense – and the characters pretty much admit it. But while the mystery is no great shakes, you’ll probably be laughing too much to care. That’s because the zany way the mystery is presented makes Murder for Two a highly enjoyable show.

Part of the fun in Murder for Two is seeing how authors and songwriters Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair play with the clichés of murder mysteries, musicals, and romantic comedies all at once. Not everything they try works; the show takes about 15 minutes to get going, and the joke-crammed script contains more than a few groaners. And the songs, while serviceable and pleasing, aren’t really outstanding. Yet the whole package works superbly, and each of the writers’ questionable excesses – like that boys’ choir – ends up paying off.

What makes Murder for Two noteworthy is that all of the characters are played by two actors – two versatile actor/singer/musicians who astonish at every turn. Kyle Branzel plays all the suspects – at least a dozen characters, though I lost count early – and switches characters with whirlwind speed. He does it all without wigs or costume changes; Branzel conveys character solely though voice, expression, gesture and posture, plus an occasional pair of eyeglasses. Ian Lowe plays Marcus, the earnest, aw-shucks cop who hopes to make his reputation by finding the killer. The two actors play piano on each other’s songs, and at one point they even play a four hand (and one foot!) duet.

Kyle Branzel and Ian Lowe in Philadelphia Theatre Company’s ‘Murder For Two’, Photo by Jim Cox.

Kyle Branzel and Ian Lowe in Philadelphia Theatre Company’s ‘Murder for Two’, Photo by Jim Cox.

As directed by Scott Schwartz, the two actors have terrific chemistry and lightning-quick timing. Jason Lyons’ lighting has its own touches of wit, and Beowulf Boritt’s stage-within-a-stage set design adds to the self-aware, don’t-take-this-too-seriously tone.

Murder for Two may be slight, but it works because it doesn’t aspire to be anything other than a madcap comedy. The actors are having a lot of fun, and you will too.

(Note: Brandon Lambert is scheduled to take over the role of Marcus on June 23rd.)

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.

MURDERFORTWO-show

Murder for Two plays through June 28, 2015, at Philadelphia Theatre Company at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre – 480 South Broad Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 985-0420, or purchase them online.

LINK
The Murder for Two website.

RATING: FOUR-STARS13.gif

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