by Mike Hoban
“Murder for Two” – Book & Music by Joe Kinosian; Book & Lyrics by Kellan Blair; Directed by A. Nora Long; Music Director, Bethan Aiken; Choreography by David Connolly. Presented by The Lyric Stage Company of Boston at 140 Clarendon Street, Boston through December 24.
“Murder for Two”, the clever little two hander musical now being staged at the Lyric, is one of the really pleasant surprises of the early theater season. I must admit that in the opening minutes of the show, I found myself wondering if I were going to be in for a long and torturous afternoon of glib cabaret. The set was relatively bare, save for an upright piano and a few gallons of blood that had been spilled across the stage floor to depict a murder scene, so it looked like was going to be two actors belting out droll vaudeville-style piano tunes for 90 minutes. Thankfully, I was dead wrong (pun intended). Director A. Nora Long has crafted a fast-paced and very funny version of this Off-Broadway hit, featuring Jared Troilo and relative newcomer Kirsten Salpini, who also accompany one another on piano throughout the show – no mean trick considering the show’s upbeat tempo.
As the story begins, we find that crime novelist Arthur Whitney has been shot dead at his own surprise birthday party, and all of the guests are suspects. Arranged by his Southern belle (and bitter former stage performer) wife Dahlia, the party list includes the seductive ballerina Barrette Lewis, who was having an affair with the deceased; Dr. Griff, the town psychiatrist who conveniently happens to be treating each of the suspects; the Murrays, a bickering neighbor couple; Whitney’s niece Stephanie who, serendipitously enough, is working on her graduate school thesis: “How to Assist in the Solving of a Small-Town Murder”; and a boys choir that is a dementedly inspired cross between Our Gang and the Bowery Boys, and whose response to the detective who thinks the boys may be traumatized by the presence of the bloody body on the floor is: “We’ve seen a lot woise”.
Officer Marcus Moscowicz, a small town New England cop with a dream of becoming a detective, is the first to arrive on the scene (with his offstage partner Lou). Marcus sees this murder as his big chance at a promotion, but he’s only got ninety minutes to solve the case before the real detective shows up. In order to let his superior officer know what a great job he’s doing with the investigation, he keeps “accidentally” pocket dialing him on his cell phone, beginning with his opening number “Protocol Says”, which amusingly details exactly how to run an investigation.
What makes this show work so well is its leads, Troilo and Salpini. The original and subsequent productions of “Murder for Two” (it was first performed in 2011) featured two male actors, but it is the chemistry between Salpini and Troilo that make this musical sing. Troilo (who was terrific as the spurned Freddy in the Lyric’s outstanding “My Fair Lady” last season) is convincing as the insecurity-driven Moscowicz, and he anchors this production with aplomb. But it is the performance by Salpini that elevates the show. Utilizing a combination of outsized silly accents and identifying physical movements, she plays the entire roster of suspects (including dropping to her knees to portray all of the boys choir parts), adroitly switching characters at breakneck speed while still managing to adopt their distinct mannerisms. While she has largely been seen as an ensemble member in her time in Boston, one hopes that this performance lands her in more featured roles. She’s that much fun to watch.
This is a really fun show, full of lots of dopey jokes (as well as some more outlandish humor) and appropriate for all ages. At ninety minutes it’s a great little escape vehicle from the expectations of the holiday season. For more info, go to: http://www.lyricstage.com/