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Theater Review: Murder For Two: Holiday Edition

Becky Klose / Farmers Alley Theatre

Farmers Alley Theatre's production of Murder For Two: Holiday Edition runs through Dec 12. WMUK’s Gordon Bolar has this review.

How do you combine song, laughter and the suspense of a whodunit involving mayhem under the mistletoe, all in one entertaining and neatly wrapped Christmas package? The answer is Farmers Alley Theatre's latest offering, Murder for Two: Holiday Edition.

There are several elements that set this mystery apart from others you may have seen or read.

Credit Becky Klose / Farmers Alley Theatre
Joe Kinosian and Brandon Lambert.

First and foremost is the cast. Two gifted actors, Brandon Lambert and Joe Kinosian, create this zany musical tale of the investigation into novelist Arthur Whitney’s murder at his Christmas Eve surprise birthday party, in his country home.

It is important to note that the two performers successfully conjure the entire story out of thin air, around a piano, with minimal props and scenery. The pair do this with an all-out blitz on the stage, through slapstick, sight gags, comic one-liners, all delivered with split-second timing and breathtaking speed.

I should also point out that laughter from the audience, even in the partially filled house for the invited dress rehearsal I witnessed last Thursday, was non-stop throughout much of the show.

Brandon Lambert portrays the young police officer, Marcus Moscowicz, who arrives early on the scene to interview no less than ten suspects.

Beyond Lambert’s considerable abilities at playing the piano and singing, he is adept at creating a resourceful and appealing Officer Moscowicz, who engages the audience’s attention and affections. We root for him both as a novice crime solver attempting to attain his detective status, and as a lonely young soul trying moving on from an unhappy love affair.

In addition to co-authoring the show with Kellen Blair, Joe Kinosian, a mercurial quick change artist, plays all ten of the aforementioned suspects, though it seemed like twenty.

Each of Kinosian’s characters is rendered seamlessly in rapid-fire succession by utilizing objects such as a pair of glasses or a crutch, as well as by affecting physical attributes such as a walk, posture, or facial contortion. Each is created instantly with a body spin, exit, flip side entrance, or wave of the hands. And finally, each character is believable, easily recognizable and a match for the probing queries of Officer Moscowicz.

Kinosian’s more memorable character creations here include Dr. Griff, a seemingly psychopathic psychiatrist, Miss Lewis, the slinky ballerina, and the bespectacled Dahlia Whitney, wife of the recently murdered novelist. The list of suspects is rounded out by Steph, niece of the victim and possible love interest for Moscowicz, and by a traveling British boys’ choir. And yes, Kinosian plays the boys’ choir too.

Song is another element distinguishing this show from other mysteries. Appealing musical numbers such as “Protocol Says” allow Lambert to share Officer Moscowicz’s inner struggle with the advised standard police procedure as his character attempts to reconcile the curious assortment of suspects before him.

Kinosian, as femme fatale, Dahlia Whitney, makes the most of “A Perfectly Lovely Surprise”, to raise questions about her own motives for murder, as well as those of other suspects.

Like many musicals “Murder for Two” has a friendship number. Instead of lauding the amiability and partnership of the characters, however, ”A Friend Like You” is a pragmatic attempt by the resourceful Moscowicz to gain the confidence and assistance of a potentially unreliable witness, Dr. Griff.

Perhaps the most amazing feature of the show’s songs is the flawless execution of the musical accompaniment generated by the playing of either Lambert, Kinosian or both, while seated at, standing over or acrobatically pounding on the keyboard of the piano located at center stage.

The final element separating this whodunit from the herd is the design and the precise execution of sound effects. These include on stage pantomimed tea pouring, and running phone gags, as well as offstage pratfalls and caterwauling, all supporting the play’s break-neck action and activities.

Director Kathy Mulay’s fast-paced and very funny production of “Murder for Two: Holiday Edition" is playing now through December 12th at Farmers Alley Theatre.  

Gordon Bolar was WMUK's General Manager from 2011 to 2016. He joined the station in 2006 as Development Director. After retiring as General Manager, Gordon has continued to review theater for WMUK.
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