With a nearly stripped stage showcasing a single piano, this low-budget, 90-minute production somehow manages to pack in all of the entertainment value of a mega Broadway musical without millions of dollars, celebrity talent or a three-hour run time.
“Murder for Two,” keenly directed by Scott Schwartz, is based on a fairly simple premise. It’s a murder mystery musical played out by two actors: one an aspiring detective on the scene of his first crime (Brett Ryback) — and another who plays all 13 suspects (Jeff Blumenkrantz). A man is shot dead at the scene of his own surprise party, and the first thing his widow does is order pizza for her strange collection of disaffected guests as they all await the police. The scenario only spins out of control from there, with large doses of cheekiness and camp.
This farce, which takes place in a small theater at Second Stage Uptown, is self-aware and always plays to the audience — yet it never panders. For example, the set displays random odds and ends that become integral to the story (a chair becomes a window, a ladder becomes a set of stairs); among the paraphernalia are cleverly tucked a rope, a knife, a gun, a wrench and a candlestick — nodding to one of the classic camp murder mysteries of our time.
Neither Ryback nor Blumenkrantz is a stellar soloist, but the verve they bring to their numbers (by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair) adds boundless humor and character. Both play the piano throughout the show, often together in a duet or switching out parts — sometimes within the same verse. They complement each other perfectly, and it’s easy to tell that they enjoy every moment of their playful yet hardworking performances. Without the burden of sincerity, they simply get to be silly and compete to out-charm the audience, which seems like quite a fun day’s work if you can get it.
Despite how much fun you have during the show, the best part is that you can be in and out with a big grin on your face in time for dinner, where you’ll undoubtedly be eager to recount the experience of “Murder for Two” to your friends.