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Arts and Entertainment Monday, Jul. 2, 2018 2 months ago

'Murder for Two' creates campy killer comedy at Florida Studio Theatre

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The Florida Studio Theatre production is an entertaining musical spoof of the murder-mystery form.
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

“Murder for Two” is a goofball sendup of Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries and all their clones, including “Clue,” both the board game and the movie. Kellen Blair wrote the script and lyrics; Joe Kinosian composed the music.

Their musical comedy unfolds in a creepy New England mansion surrounded by fog and clichés. Various stereotypes crouch in the darkness. Arthur Whitney, the best-selling mystery writer, is the guest of honor at a surprise party. He walks in the door and somebody shoots him. Surprise.

Somebody calls the cops. Officer Marcus shows up and states the obvious: Someone here … is the killer!

Who’s there? Two actors. Period.

That’s all you’ll ever see on stage here.

And that’s the gag.

Paul Helms plays Marcus, a rookie police officer (and wannabe detective) trying to solve the author’s murder; Kyle Branzel portrays the assorted suspects. These actors also play the upright piano, both two-handed, four-handed and occasionally with their feet.

The guests include: Barrette, a posing, pouting temptress of a ballerina; Steph, the late author’s Nancy Drew-ish niece; Dahlia, the author’s unhappy widow (an aging Blanche DuBois-type who left the stage so he could write); Dr. Griff, a curmudgeonly shrink; Murray and Barb, the author’s bickering neighbors; Vanessa, Marcus’ psychotic first partner (a bad memory in his head, not a guest); three lads who seem to have escaped from “The Little Rascals” film shorts; and Henry, a stage-Irish fireman who apparently escaped from “Riverdance.” Aside from the fireman and the kids, they all have a motive for killing the author. Whodunnit? Who cares?

Paul Helm is the only other actor who performs in this two-man show. Courtesy photo

Skip it.

The musical stuffs its basic crime story with a baroque tangle of subplots, romantic triangles, intrigue and betrayal.

Let’s skip all that too.

“Murder for Two” never takes itself seriously; why should we?

The show’s a parody in the sense that the campy “Batman” TV series was a parody. It’s a spoof of the murder-mystery form that barely sticks to the form. The musical never fakes you out with a jump scare. There’s no hint of Hitchcockian darkness, no suspense and nothing to fear.

Director Bruce Jordan aims for the sustained silliness that the material demands. He dials the monkey business up to 11 — and keeps it there.

The two actors are versatile, talented and hilarious. Branzel is a quick-change artist of voice and body language. This human chameleon reminds me of a gene-splice of Dana Carvey and Jim Carrey, if the resulting offspring had fallen into a taffy-pulling machine. Helms mostly sticks to the straight-man role of Officer Marcus, but he gets his share of laughs as a sad-sack, by-the-book cop who’s lost in a funhouse. (Helms occasionally morphs into a few other personas — and also talks to his invisible sidekick “Officer Lou.”)

Kyle Branzel plays several suspects for a murder in "Murder for Two." Courtesy photo

Just to be clear, while leaping about through their various changes, Branzel and Helms also pound that piano. On top of that, they’re good singers — except when they sing badly on purpose.

The music behind this madness has the hell-bent momentum of a runaway freight train. Blair’s lyrics alternate between clever and deliberately lazy. (What rhymes with “Ikea?” “Diarrhea!” “Mamma Mia!”) Kinosian’s compositions stick to a generic, old-school musical style, with the exception of one disco number. Music director Joshua Zecher-Ross does fine work with the fast and furious material.

Bottom line?

“Murder for Two” is more like “The Mystery of Irma Vep” and less like the movie version of “Young Frankenstein.”

It’s not brilliant satire. But it’s funny stuff.

The pace never slows; the tone is stuck on wacky; the preposterous storyline is just an excuse for horsing around.

Basically, you’re in for a 90-minute theatrical circus act. Two talented actors show you what they can do with a few props, Susan Angermann’s costumes and Ken Goldstein’s spare set. What exactly can they do?

They’ll make you laugh, that’s what.

 

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