LOGAN — One of my favorite movies that I watch almost every year is Clue with Tim Curry as the butler. I grew up with the movie, and it instilled in me a love of both mystery and comedy. For anyone who has ever wished that Agatha Christie told more jokes or imagined the movie Murder Mystery with a few Broadway show tunes, then the Old Lyric Theatre has the perfect vaudevillian murder mystery musical for you.
Murder for Two is an award-winning musical comedy that premiered in 2011 with book and lyrics by Kellen Blair and book and music by Joe Kinosian. The play begins, as all good mysteries do, with a dead body, this particular body belonging to writer Arthur Whitney who was coming home to his own surprise birthday party. First to the scene is Officer Marcus Moscowicz in his blue pinstriped suit and classic trench coat, along with his (invisible) partner. The costume design by Carey B Hanson has a classic 1930s mystery feel. Eric Van Tielen exquisitely plays Moscowicz, a young cop with a complicated past who really wants to move up the ladder and be a detective.
With only two actors in the show, one actor playing the police officer investigating the crime, it should be a given fact that the other actor must be the guilty party. The seeming culprit is played by Eric Shorey who plays The Suspects, all of whom seem to have ample cause to wish the novelist, Arthur Whitney, dead. Shorey’s performance is a mind-blowing tour-de-force of comedic gold. Shorey’s suspects include: Dahlia, the victim’s wife who knew her husband was cheating on her and resented him for ending her stage career; the prima ballerina who was also having an affair with the celebrated writer; the old bickering couple, Murry and Barb; the sweet little boys’ choir who were on hand as entertainment for the party and who seem a little jaded for their age; and the scratching psychiatrist who seemed to be treating all the other suspects in the room. There are a lot of suspects to go over, and I was astounded at the variety and clarity of Shorey’s extensive list of possible culprits. Shorey clearly defines each character with distinct mannerisms and voice changes, both speaking and singing. I am in awe of his versatility and prowess in slipping between characters.
It is said that an actor who can act, dance, and sing is a “triple threat.” I would argue that Shorey and Van Tielen must be “quadruple threats.” Both actors can certainly act. The comedic timing between them is perfect. Shorey’s has stunning ballet prowess. While the dancing is meant to be funny and leaves the audience rolling with laughter, the actual technical level of the performance is incredibly high. Both men have an impressive range and sing with velvety smooth tenor voices. However, the real showstopper, and what makes these men “quadruple threats,” is that they both play the piano with impressive soul and technical prowess. When Shorey steps forward as one of the suspects to sing an alibi or back story, Van Tielen flies to the keys to accompany. Likewise, as officer Moscowicz takes center stage to work out which of the suspects could have done the deed, Shorey rushes to the piano to take over. Occasionally they both squeeze onto the piano bench and let their nimble fingers fly around the keyboard in tandem. I am absolutely enthralled with each number.
While I could go on in my glowing assessment of the two talented men on the stage who astound me with their talent, the show certainly has other elements to mention. The show keeps a fast pace under the direction of Richie Call. The blocking is excellent and plays to the zany farce elements that the Lyric Rep is known for. The set design by Morgan Dawn Goulightly is beautiful. The space is clearly set in an opulent great room with a large oak bookshelf and plush velvet curtains surrounding the baby grand piano, which is almost a character unto itself given its role in the action. The sound design by Bryan Z. Richards does well with the miscellaneous sounds that populate the production, from the pop of the gun to the ring of a cell phone. Richards’s design sets the mood before the show even starts with nostalgic mystery music like the theme from Scooby Doo, and I laughed out loud when I heard the theme from Darkwing Duck slide in. These extra, well-placed details support the action to great effect.
My only regret in watching this show is that there isn’t a larger audience present to enjoy it. Even with the house only half full, the actors give everything in their performance, and I wish they had a greater turnout for their efforts. There is some adult material that would give this show a PG-13 rating, but it is very family friendly. I wonder if the small cast doing a new, less-known musical, contributed to the lower turn out, but I hope that all future nights sell out. I love that the show takes the familiar musical and who-dun-it mystery and melds the two elements into a witty comedy that is new and fresh. I give this show my highest commendation. I think all patrons will enjoy watching these two colossally talented actors as they try to figure out who is the culprit.