Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of Charley's Aunt
Murder for Two is a murder mystery musical that had a successful year-long run Off-Broadway (split between two different theaters) beginning in 2013. The one-act, 100-minute whodunit has a fairly simple plot; Officer Marcus has been sent to the home of the famous murder-mystery novelist Arthur Whitney, who has been murdered, to secure the location and the potential suspects, since the detective assigned to the murder case is an hour away. Marcus desires to be promoted to detective, so he decides to use that hour to prove his worth by finding out who killed Whitney at his surprise birthday party. Marcus realizes that every one of the partygoers had a motive when he discovers that Whitney publicly revealed dirty little secrets about each of the guests when he turned them into not exactly fictional characters in his books.
Joe Kinosian's music and Kellen Blair's lyrics are pretty good. While there is some similarity in the songs, Blair's witty lyrics have fun rhymes to accompany repetitive melodies in Kinosian's music. There is also a really sweet romantic duet, "He Needs a Partner," that is quite touching. Both wrote the book for the show and, while it may be a tad too long and it takes about 10 minutes at the start for everything to jell, the characters are interesting, and there are some intriguing twists and turns that keep the audience guessing as to just "whodunit."
Local actress and musician Michelle Chin has appeared in lead and supporting parts in dozens of productions at Phoenix Theatre, Childsplay, and other theatre companies in town; in this production she makes an auspicious directorial debut. With smart staging choices and wise character decisions that add moments of humor to the already hilarious script, Chin's direction is perfect.
While Off-Broadway the show only had a cast of two, with one actor playing all of the suspects and the other playing Marcus (both took turns playing the piano accompaniment), for this production they've added a third actor who, while he doesn't speak, portrays the other police officer who accompanies Marcus to the scene of the crime and plays piano for almost every song. This addition is actually a major improvement as it allows the two main actors to not be "stuck" behind the piano for songs, which gives them more freedom to bring the characters to life.
With just the addition of a simple costume piece or small prop, while also changing his body posture and adding an accent, Toby Yatso delivers a tour de force performance as he seamlessly and effortlessly portrays close to a dozen crazy characters. From Whitney's widow Dahlia to her nosy, wannabe sleuth niece Steph, plus an aloof ballerina, a bickering couple, the slightly insane psychiatrist Dr. Griff, and even a trio of street-smart prepubescent boys, Yatso is spectacular, he and often moves back and forth between characters in a split second. It's a superb performance. Seth Tucker is equally good as Marcus, the determined, by-the-numbers policeman who follows protocol but is also often frustrated by the constant interruptions of the guests when he's trying to put pieces of the puzzle together. Both Yatso and Tucker have lovely singing voices that shine on the many numbers in the score. Kevin White portrays Lou, the other cop who arrives with Marcus, and provides skilled musical direction and accompaniment.
Robert Kovach's stage design uses just a few small set elements to depict the main room where the murder took place, with Kristen Peterson's lighting and video designs delivering some fun lighting effects and charming video images projected on the large screen in the back of the stage. There is also an excellent sound design that allows every line and lyric to be heard loud and clear, and some fun sound effects by Dave Temby that add pops of humor.
Murder for Two may not be a great musical, but it is likable and makes for jolly good fun. With a brilliant turn from Toby Yatso as all of the suspects, another stand out performance from Seth Tucker, and an excellent directorial debut from Michelle Chin, this production gives three local Phoenix actors the chance to show off their skills in a charming, wacky, and highly theatrical production.
The Phoenix Theatre Company's outdoor venue provides socially distanced seating and is located in the large courtyard of the Central United Methodist Church, which is located on the north side of Phoenix Theatre's parking lot.
Murder for Two runs through February 28, 2021, at The Phoenix Theatre Company's outdoor stage at Central United Methodist Church, on the north side of the Phoenix Theatre's parking lot, 100 E. McDowell Road, Phoenix AZ. Tickets can be purchased at phoenixtheatre.com or by calling 602-254-2151.
Book and music
by Joe Kinosian
* Courtesy of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors & stage managers in the US