Off-Broadway Theater Review: MURDER FOR TWO (New World Stages)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on May 13, 2014

in Theater-New York

BORED TO DEATH

In Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair’s ill-conceived two-hander musical comedy Murder for Two, lively performances and Scott Schwartz’s energetic direction are not enough to overcome a book that goes out of its way to avoid suspense and is so full of corn that I found myself squirming between yawns: After a novelist is murdered at his own surprise birthday party, his kooky wife informs the policeman that someone has also stolen all the ice cream! Is Murder for Two intended for 4-year-olds?

MURDER FOR TWO at New World Stages Off-Broadway.“Surprise!” yell the wife and the guests of the victim, just as he enters his dark house and is shot in the head (this is a family show, so we don’t see the murder). Then Marcus, a goofy young policeman who dreams of becoming a detective, finds himself at the crime scene and decides to solve the mystery before the real detective arrives. (On the day I attended Marcus was admirably played by the understudy Adam Overett, who was filling in for Brett Ryback.) The wife and the guests – aka the suspects, 12 in all – are all played by the excellent Jeff Blumenkrantz, who looks like he’s having a ball jumping from character to character, and who gets legitimate laughs in the process. It’s his shenanigans that are the protein of this otherwise innutritious production. Unfortunately, they aren’t enough to make one feel nourished.

MURDER FOR TWO at New World Stages Off-Broadway.Kinosian and Blair’s idea appears to be to create a kid-friendly homage to the old-fashioned whodunit – or, perhaps more accurately (and more regrettably), an homage to take-offs on the old-fashioned whodunit, a la Scooby Doo. The creators seem to relish wallowing in their outdated, unhip jokes, which feel like they’re designed specifically to be as benign and banal as possible; the same can be said of the drama. And although Kinosian’s music is catchy, Blair’s lyrics have little to offer. The sense I get is that they are trying to recreate the safe, stress-free environment of Saturday morning cartoons – straight-up cozy fun for the kids, nostalgic fun for adults. I saw two children in the audience, a girl and a boy, both around 10. He chuckled a few times at the performers’ antics; she dozed off in the first 15 minutes.

MURDER FOR TWO at New World Stages Off-Broadway.This kind of puerile, white-bread entertainment done in the style of inane TV shows doesn’t do anybody any favors. Viewers, no matter their age, deserve a catharsis, and they’re not going to get one without drama, without watching sympathetic characters in real jeopardy struggling to overcome obstacles. All that said, I get the sense that Kinosian and Blair tied their own hands when they came up with the concept for Murder for Two – which includes the two actors playing piano. And although the show does have its merits – it has characters, a beginning, a middle, and an end, there are twists and turns, it successfully plays with the fact that we’re watching a play, it’s inclusive – they amount to a big pile of nothing. But my hope is that for their next project its authors will be inspired to use their evident talents and abilities to create something worthwhile.

MURDER FOR TWO at New World Stages Off-Broadway.

photos by Joan Marcus

Murder for Two
New World Stages
scheduled to end on July 6, 2014
for tickets, call (212) 239-6200
or visit http://murderfortwomusical.com/

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