I’ve always been a fan of murder mysteries. I also enjoy comedic musicals. It’s rare that one show encompasses both types of entertainment.
“Curtains” was one show that successfully combined the two, but the new musical at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, “Murder for Two,” surpasses it by eliminating any orchestra and relying on only two actors to play all the characters and to both play the piano for their accompaniment. And it’s a real hoot! Can you say “tour de force,” or rather “two de force?”
Make note of the names Noel Carey and Jason Grimm. These two actors are amazing triple threats – comedians, singing actors and pianists – and this production is your chance to see them at their best.
Carey, who’s been in the national tour of “Murder for Two,” plays small-town policeman Marcus Moscowicz; he would love to be promoted to the rank of detective. What could be his big break occurs when a surprise birthday party for novelist Arthur Whitney turns deadly for the birthday boy. With an hour to go before an official detective can arrive at the scene, Marcus is determined to solve the murder.
Marcus has another policeman on hand – invisible to us – to help him maintain order, but the suspects are numerous, including a prima ballerina, a prominent local psychiatrist, a squabbling husband and wife who were Whitney’s neighbors, the novelist’s widow and niece, and even three youngsters from a boys choir who were going to provide entertainment that evening.
Grimm, who has a ton of Chicago-area credits, has the seemingly unfeasible task of playing all 12 suspects and keeping them distinct through voice, mannerisms, movements and, occasionally, a prop (e.g., eyeglasses, wheelchair, fire helmet). To say that Grimm succeeds at this mission impossible is an understatement; he deserves a Jefferson Award nomination for his carefully executed schizophrenia.
The fun of the show starts before the first lines of dialogue, Carey and Grimm engaging in audience interaction (watch your belongings if you sit in the front row!), set piece rearrangement, the addition of more props, lighting gags and even some juggling (yes, yet another talent for Carey). The opening announcement about audience etiquette also provides chuckles.
The in-the-round setting for the show made me curious about whether the piano-playing skills of the actors would be visible only to one part of the audience; I needn’t have worried. The stage does rotate at various points in the story, and it’s clear that – other than one show-stopping number for a particular suspect that involves recorded music – the only instrumental music is coming from one or both actors (watch for at least one point where one is playing notes in the middle of the keyboard while the other plays the lowest and highest notes simultaneously).
Songs aren’t listed in the program, so you don’t know what’s coming next in this nonstop 90-minute show but suffice it to say the songs by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, who also cowrote the book of the show, propel the story. Each character gets his or her share of the spotlight, with some of them quite eagerly seeking it. Lyrics range from character-revealing (e.g., the detective wannabe’s mantra, “Protocol Says”) to near-confessions to a song of longing (“He Needs a Partner”).
Director Scott Weinstein, set designer Scott Davis, music director Matt Deitchman and lighting designer Jesse Klug have given Carey and Grimm everything they need to pull off what is, essentially, a madcap musical murder mystery miracle. When you attend, you won’t die laughing, but after seeing this “hoot-dunit,” you’ll be anything but Grimm.
• Paul Lockwood is a past president of TownSquare Players (TSP) and an occasional community theater actor, appearing in over 30 plays, musicals, and revues since he and his wife moved to Woodstock in 2001. Recent shows include On Golden Pond, 9 to 5: The Musical, A Christmas Carol (2014, 2016), Into the Woods, and The Drowsy Chaperone. He’s also performed in dramatic readings and is currently playing the Wizard in a charity dinner-theater production of Once Upon a Mattress through Aug. 4 in Ridgefield (rclpctheater.com).