I am a sucker for a good murder mystery. Or even a bad one, really. In a fantasy world where I could ignore work and personal obligations for an entire Saturday, I would spend the day playing Cluedo, browsing the bookshelves at the Mysterious Bookshop in Tribeca, and hosting a murder mystery dinner party (preferably co-hosted by one of my partners in crime). Given these, albeit nerdy, facts, there was no way that I could pass up seeing Second Stage Theatre’s production of Murder for Two at New World Stages. Murder for Two is a one-act musical comedy following the exploits of two police officers, six potential suspects and one very dead body – all performed by the energetic duo of Brett Ryback and Jeff Blumenkrantz.
Specifically, Ryback plays aspiring detective Marcus Moscowicz while Blumenkrantz tackles all of the suspects. And what a dizzying array of suspects they are. Our murder victim is a novelist with a myriad of enemies, including his wife who’s spotlight is fading, his niece who moonlights as Scrappy-Doo, a doctor who forgets about pesky patient confidentiality, a combative older couple, and a dramatic ballerina. Throw in three precocious boys who were probably members of the Baker Street Irregulars in another life and some perfectly integrated piano numbers, and we have ourselves both a party and a mystery!
Murder for Two is over the top and completely self-aware. But, it sort of has to be. Ryback and Blumenkrantz never let the audience forget that they are working hard to make the show happen (and that they must work within the constraints of live theatre). Blumenkrantz obviously cannot be in two places at once or be two characters at once – a fact that is acknowledged and even highlighted during the play. To the audience’s great enjoyment, Ryback and Blumenkrantz successfully employ observational humor and recognize the humor in their lines, props, set and even in the piano battles that they engage in. At times they break character, smiling or laughing at the absurdity of their routine (intentionally, perhaps), but those moments are funny and endearing – not frustrating.
To those who go to the theatre for an intellectual challenge, a word of warning – do not expect much of a plot. The story line is absurd, and almost nonexistent, but the play is not meant to be an exercise in logic. It is an exercise in attention grabbing and hilarious antics mixed with some great musical talent and, yes, strong acting skills. It is vaudeville, not highbrow art. The show is certainly not perfect. It takes some time to ramp up, and some of the sung musical numbers are both unmemorable and unnecessary (aside from a hilarious song about the horrific things that kids are exposed to these days, performed by three boys who just happen to be at the crime scene). But these imperfections are misfires, not show killers.
In this case, Murder for Two is less about “whodunit” and more about the great lengths that the cast and crew went to in order to tell you “whodunit.” Murder for Two works because its stars genuinely seem to enjoy their roles, and they play well off one another. For my part, I genuinely enjoyed watching them play.