Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Stage

'Murder for Two' is a lighthearted, vaudevillian whodunit

TAMPA

As with the majority of touring musicals, Murder for Two visits the Tampa Bay area through the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

Like many, the show is light and funny, with performers who can sing and dance and act. There is only one problem to solve, and it's not our inhumanity to each other or our relationship to nature or with ourselves.

The great question is: Who killed Arthur Whitney?

Unlike any other show at the Straz this season, the cabaret-style musical is staying in town for several weeks. Not that moving would be any big deal. The set could probably fit into a single U-Haul truck.

What makes this two-man show unique is its lack of self-consciousness and a toned down sense of expectations. It asks the audience to suspend some of the normal accoutrements of theater, such as characters played by different actors and ingenious illusions.

In return, the show supplies performances so caffeinated they seem to be moving at double speed. Murder for Two, directed by Scott Schwartz and created by Kellen Blair and Jeff Kinosian, premiered in 2011 by Chicago Shakespeare Theater and was extended four times over a six-month run. It's a playful tribute to the style of Agatha Christie, with overtones of radio theater and the board game Clue.

Noel Carey plays Officer Marcus Moscowicz, who hopes to solve the murder of a famous novelist before his boss arrives on the scene. His counterpart, Jeremiah Ginn, plays all of the suspects.

Both play the piano.

The traditional mystery elements shift a spotlight of suspicion among at least a dozen characters. Did Whitney's steel magnolia wife do him in? Or could it have been her psychiatrist, who seems to have been treating everyone, including Moscowicz? The novelist's niece seems a little too helpful, and her master's thesis, "How to assist in the solving of a small-town murder," is awfully convenient.

As everyone nefarious, Ginn changes character with a turn of the head, an imaginary cigar or by adopting the gliding moves of a ballerina. All are characters Whitney knew and upon whom he drew fictional counterparts.

Ginn outdoes himself repeatedly through a very rapid 90-minute show, even dancing on his knees as three not-so-clean-cut members of a boys choir. Ginn and Carey supply all of the music, accompanying each other's soliloquies and banging out duets. They have fun with the audience, consistent with the gently self-satirizing feel of this production. Setting it in the Jaeb Theater, with its cafe seating amenable to drinks and popcorn, was a wise choice.

I realize talent is normally a means to an end, which is to tell a good story. Here the story, while amusing enough, pretty much showcases a couple of talented guys who can entertain at warp speed. Murder for Two is a bit like Prairie Home Companion, a comic riff that starts fast and never lets up.

Carey and Ginn wring out laughs and plenty of respect from the audience by sheer force of will. You cannot watch this pair do what they do and not be impressed.

So, who killed the novelist? It's almost beside the point. You might change your mind several times on the way to the end, which is part of what makes the show a fun, vaudevillian ride.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

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