Murder for Two
At the Marriott Theatre
By Dan Zeff
Lincolnshire—“Murder for Two” at the Marriott Theatre is a silly musical that wears its silliness proudly. For about 95 uninterrupted minutes, two actors power their way through a farcical murder mystery in which one actor (Noel Carey) plays a neophyte police officer and the other actor (Jason Grimm) portrays a dozen or so characters of assorted genders, each one a possible suspect in the shooting death of much disliked novelist Arthur Whitney. The show is sometimes a shambles, but more often than not it works, especially for viewers with a high tolerance for low comedy.
“Murder for Two” received its world premiere at the Chicago Shakespeare Festival in 2011. At that time, I thought the production was overwrought, with the two actors willing to do anything for a laugh. The revival at the Marriott far exceeds the CST original in watchability, though this type of show is a taste I have never fully acquired. But audiences ready for a full-tilt romp should have a hoot of a time. The belly-laughing spectators around me clearly were a happy bunch soaking up the fast and furious acting and musical action on the theater’s revolving in-the-round-stage.
This show must have been a bear to cast. The two actors not only must display a bottomless reservoir of energy, they are the show’s orchestra, playing an onstage piano throughout the evening with a manic skill that brooks no fakery. Carey and Grimm are first-rate pianists and their solos and duets are the real deal, bringing off Joe Kinosian’s score (Kinosian also co-wrote the book with lyricist Kellen Blair). They reminded me of the singing and piano style of Tom Lehrer, a lofty compliment indeed.
The stage resembles an attic full of Victorian furniture and related artifacts, dominated by a piano center stage (praise to set designer Scott Davis). The location is supposed to be the study of the deceased novelist and the plot quickly becomes a blend of Agatha Christie and the board game Clue. The characters are all gathered to celebrate the birthday of the despised Arthur Whitney, The body, never seen by the audience, lies on the floor and Detective Marcus sets about interviewing the birthday guests, seeking the killer.
The suspects, all recreated in hugely bold strokes by Jason Grimm, include the dead man’s wife Dahlia, ballerina Barrette Lewis, who is the dead man’s mistress, the local psychiatrist and wheelchair-bound Dr. Griff, and three rascally boys out of a Dead End Kids movie who represent a visiting boys’ choir in attendance to sing at the birthday party.
Grimm carries the heavier load, ricocheting from character to character with the aid of shifting accents and body language and an occasional prop like outsized glasses. Grimm’s main positive as he dashes through his gallery of characters is a lanky rubbery physique put in the service of characters of a distinctly vaudeville nature. Not that Carey doesn’t do his share. His detective starts gradually but builds, like the action, into a frenzy of activity as the storyline feverishly accelerates around the stage. The term “tireless” does not do the two men justice. Their two-piano duet late in the show is a dazzler (Matt Deitchman is credited as musical director and Patti Garwood the music supervisor).
The songs are zippy and often funny, with in jokes and referential connections to the live theater. Sometimes the singing was over-miked, especially in Grimm’s numbers, but if I didn’t catch all the lyrics I marveled at the enthusiasm and commitment of the performing. The production occasionally reaches a bit too hard for comic novelty, as when a member of the audience is pulled on stage to briefly expand the cast to three, to minimum effect. The show runs a little long and seems to have trouble making up its mind how the plot will end, not that a resolution to the murder is of any great consequence.
Scott Weinstein is the director and he works just as hard as his premium cast to create and sustain the lunatic goings-on. It all looks and sounds spontaneous in its frenzy but some witty lines do seep through. If the madcap staging often seems close to out of control, the performing and directing mostly keep everything on the theatrical rails. A lot of intense rehearsing must have gone on among Weinstein, Carey, and Grimm to create the wild and woolly what-next flavor of the show The staging also benefits from design contributions by Jesse Klug (lighting), Robert E. Gilmartin (sound), and Emily Arnold (costume coordination).
“Murder for Two” could be 10 minutes shorter, especially in its early going, but the staging accelerates at about the halfway mark and finishes in full sail, logic be darned. It’s not Chekhov or great satire or towering musical theater, but what it does it does with flair and exuberance, and the versatility of Grimm and Carey cannot be overemphasized. The idea of the cast stampeding through this show eight times a week is mind-boggling.
The show gets a rating of
“Murder for Two” runs through August 26 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive. Performances are Wednesday at 1 and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 5 p.m. Tickets are $50 to $60. Call 847 634 0200 or visit www.MarriottTheatre.com.
Contact Dan at:<ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com July 2018
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