If you live in New York City, have plans to visit New York City, or even have the means to travel to New York City, it’s time you put Murder For Two at the top of your to-do list.  Whenever I read another critic writing something cliche like “run, don’t walk to the theatre,” I normally roll my eyes, accusing them of getting a little too excited.  Now I understand.

When Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair sat down to write, they decided they wanted to turn something out that involved two actors and a piano, and something that could be performed in any setting.  If “any setting” happens to include Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Second Stage Uptown, and now New World Stages, they achieved their goal.

Murder For Two follows your classic whodunit murder mystery format: there is a murder at the top of the show, and right before the curtain comes down, we know who did it.  There’s just one twist, it’s a musical with a cast of two actors.  One actor (Brett Ryback) plays the rookie detective trying to solve the crime , the other actor (Jeff Blumenkrantz) plays all thirteen suspects, and they both play the piano.  You might call if a tour-de-force, I call it genius.

I read the script before attending the show, and I can honestly say I have never laughed so hard while reading a play, a genre which is in-and-of-itself a visual and aural medium.  Just the idea of knowing that all of these zany suspects were portrayed by one actor had me in hysterics.  And even if I didn’t know that, the humor holds its own.  But when you couple the brilliant direction of Scott Schwartz with the powerhouse performance duo on stage, you’ve got a theatrical phenomenon worth every penny of the ticket price (which I, myself, have paid twice).

Jeff and Brett enter at the top of the show, in silence, with a sight gag uncovering the piano and racing to be the first to play the overture.  This is a clever way to instantly let the audience know the humor that’s in store, as well as the comedy chops of the writers and actors.  Before a word of dialogue was uttered, the audience was holding their sides, and the energy didn’t drop for the next ninety minutes.  You’ll literally witness the actors wiping the sweat from their foreheads because momentum doesn’t let up and they never leave the stage.

The music is catchy, with a delicious mix of hilarious uptempos and sensitive ballads, always driving the plot forward.  The costumes and sets, while well-chosen, are very basic, further keeping your eye on the virtuosic performance in front of you.  No falling chandeliers, flying monkeys, or dancing chimney sweeps are needed to keep the audience completely engaged here on stage five of New World Stages.

If you like plays, like musicals, like comedies, or have opposable thumbs, Murder For Two is the show for you.  And feel free to bring the kids; it’s a family friendly show.

*this just in:  if you’re in the New York City area tomorrow, 2/11/14, there will be a performance and cast album signing at 4:30, Barnes and Noble, 86th and Lexington.

Culture Theater Review: Murder For Two