Monday, January 29, 2018

Murder for Two Knocking ‘em Dead

Barney Stein and David Saffert. Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

By Tina Arth

It’s a good thing that audiences don’t actually die laughing – if they did, last Friday Tigard’s New Stage would have been the scene of unimaginable carnage. Broadway Rose’s season opener, Murder for Two, didn’t just draw the frequent laughs and occasional rounds of applause common to good musical comedy. Instead, the cast repeatedly drew show-stopping bursts of full on cheering. Director Dan Murphy and his production team pull out all the stops for authors Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair’s frenetic 2011 murder mystery, and killer (pun intended) performances by David Saffert and Barney Stein bring it all home.

At the most superficial level, Murder for Two is just a slightly twisted take on an Agatha Christie-style drawing room murder mystery, set in a wealthy American household. Frustrated artiste Dahlia Whitney has planned a surprise birthday party for her husband, famed novelist Arthur. As he walks into the darkened living room full of hidden guests, a shot rings out, and Arthur is no more.  Enter Marcus Moscowicz, a lowly street cop who aspires to detective status, and his partner Lou. With some not-always appreciated assistance from Arthur’s niece Steph, a 21st Century Nancy Drew wannabe, Marcus rigidly adheres to protocol as he probes the usual suspects – the shrink, the lover, the wife, the neighbors – plus an utterly unprecedented three- member boys’ choir, inexplicably dressed and played as street-wise urchins who could be New York refugees from Oliver.  Eventually, of course, we learn not only who murdered Arthur, but also who stole all of the ice cream from the party (which bothers Dahlia a lot more than her spouse’s sudden demise).

The show moves from “slightly twisted” to full-on comic chaos because eleven roles (Moscowicz and the ten suspects) are all played by two men. Are they actors? A finely matched vaudeville team? Physical comics? Vocalists? Dancers? Yes to all of the above, taken to the next level by the added challenge of constantly accompanying themselves (sometimes alone, sometimes as a duet) with some damned fine piano playing. Their only on-stage assistance comes from the unheard, unseen Lou and a brief corpse cameo by an unsuspecting audience member (on opening night, Cindy from Row E set the bar impossibly high with her spasmodic death throes). Stein certainly holds his own as the dim but determined cop, and he handles the lion’s share of the piano work, but it is Saffert’s quick-change portrayal of the ten suspects that really drives the comedy over the top. Words like wacky, zany, nutty, madcap make my skin crawl – they generally evoke irritating visions of The Three Stooges, Jerry Lewis, or Benny Hill – yet all of these words not only apply to Murder for Two, they constitute high praise.  Using no more than some oversized glasses, a few other key accessories, and an impressive repertoire of voices, Saffert works up quite a sweat during 90 minutes of zipping from character to character, sometimes even arguing with himself. The songs will never stand alone, but Broadway Rose’s production design team dresses them up as full-on production numbers accented by Lawrence Welk-style cascading bubbles, glorious lighting, and a host of other imaginative and hilarious touches. Add in some spectacularly funny choreography (I especially liked Timmy, Yonkers and Skid’s big dance number, but Dahlia’s “Steppin’ Out of the Shadows” is a true show-stopper) and the stage is set for an evening of hard-core laughter.

Murphy, Saffert, Stein and the rest of the team are brightening the dark days of winter with a brilliant dose of pure comedy that is not to be missed. Watch the State of the Union address if you must, but by all means give equal time to the energetic, untrammeled joy that Broadway Rose has brought to town.

Murder for Two is playing at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Sunday, February 25th.

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