The two-actor, multicharacter musical Murder for Two is exactly what Actors’ Playhouse artistic director David Arisco prefers to offer his audiences in the summer: a smaller-scale show that supplies nothing more than beat-the-heat entertainment.
The Joe Kinosian-Kellen Blair musical has a history. Created in 2011 in Chicago, where it won the Joseph Jefferson Award for best new musical, the show had an off-Broadway run in 2013, a national tour, and multiple regional productions.
Martin Landry, who plays the musical’s multiple suspects and also serves as the production’s musical director, made his Murder for Two debut in the national tour and performed the show at eight theaters in seven states before hitting the stage in Coral Gables. Mark Schenfisch, who plays an aspiring detective, has also done multiple productions of the show.
That the actors, who must also be excellent pianists, have performed the show before is a blessing for a couple of reasons. Schenfisch replaced a previously announced performer just a week before the show opened, and it’s doubtful that someone new to the intricacies of the musical could have mastered it and achieved such chemistry with Landry in that short time. Moreover, the frenetic, 100-minute plot is already difficult to follow at times, so the actors’ experience is anchoring and clarifying.
Murder for Two mixes a classic, Agatha Christie-like setup with shows such as The 39 Steps and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, in which actors play multiple roles.
In this case, novelist Arthur Whitney, who turns his friends’ dirty secrets into plot points, is murdered on his way to a surprise birthday party thrown by his showbiz-crazy wife, Dahlia. Earnest cop Marcus Moscowicz (Schenfisch) is first to arrive on the scene, and he desperately tries to solve the case before the real detective shows up.
Landry, who has also played Marcus previously, gets the showy role — or roles. He morphs into all ten suspects, quickly and repeatedly, using just a pair of eyeglasses, a red baseball cap, and, eventually, a boa, providing external character cues. Landry achieves variety through his voice and chameleonic physicality.
Tall and lanky, he sinks to his knees to play three boys, each wearing that red baseball cap a different way (forward, backward, pulled low over the face). He plays the seductive and possibly dangerous ballerina Barrette Lewis, a woman who “knew” Arthur and Dahlia only too well, and as he stretches out a long leg and gracefully works his hands, he looks more than a little like Mick Fleetwood on the cover of Fleetwood Mac’s album Rumours. He argues with himself as both halves of a senior couple, plays an older shrink, and becomes the Whitneys’ grad-student niece, who takes a shine to Marcus.
Both performers grandly play the piano at center stage, sometimes accompanying each other, sometimes playing together in ways both straightforward and showy. Audiences should stick around for their short postperformance display of piano-duo virtuosity.
Both actors sing well, but the show’s music and lyrics are forgettable even before guests exit the theater.
Set designers Gene Seyffer and Jodi Dellaventura, lighting designer Eric Nelson, sound designer Shaun Mitchell, and costume designer Ellis Tillman collaborate to create the crazy world that Landry and Schenfisch inhabit, and Arisco generally keeps the production’s style and pacing around an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10. Maybe the show should have been titled Mayhem for Two.
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Although the plot, music, and lyrics of Murder for Two are nowhere near stellar, what the talented Landry and Schenfisch bring to the stage fulfills the summer mission of Actors’ Playhouse: Don’t think too hard; just enjoy.
— Christine Dolen, ArtburstMiami.com
ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit source of theater, dance, music, and performing arts news.
Murder for Two. 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday through August 11 at Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 305-444-9293; actorsplayhouse.org. Tickets cost $30 to $75.