If you were to let two incredibly talented actor/pianist/dancer/comedian/improvisers loose with the concept of a murder plot, with one a wanna-be detective and the other playing all 13 suspects, you might be lucky enough to see a show such as we saw last night. The North Carolina Theatre‘s production of Murder for Two in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh, NC would fill that bill. However, this is not improv. These two performers are balls of fire who never stop to take even a short breath during 90 minutes straight of doing what entertainers do — entertain. And they are obviously rehearsed, right down to the bone.
Joe Kinosian wrote book and music (and played in early productions) and Kellen Blair wrote book and lyrics to this amazingly clever piece of theater, locally directed by J. Scott Lapp and choreographed by Wendy Seyb. In a very real way, this show is old-fashioned and intimate. The characters open the show by talking directly to the audience, explaining that they two would perform, and then they move almost too comfortably into action.
Suddenly one is small-town police officer and wanna-be-Detective Marcus Moscowicz (played by Brandon Lambert), and the other is a widow (played by Martin Landry), answering the door. From there, Landry transforms miraculously into another of the 12 remaining suspects, and so it goes.
All this interspersed with the two actors playing the piano, both singularly and together, and often with both hands and feet. There are no moments of slow or subtle action, everything is at the helter-skelter pace, whether they are dancing, singing, engaged in ridiculous dialogue, or otherwise camping it up with various shenanigans.
Scott Lapp directed these two whirlwinds at a scared-rabbit pace; and yet there is neither slip nor stumble as they prance around the stage, around and over the piano (plunked down right in the middle of the stage), and in and out the two doors on either side of the proscenium arch.
Wendy Seyb choreographed little breakout dances that just pop up between the two actors as they engage in other capers as well. The audience somehow keeps up with it all, laughing, catching their own breath, and laughing some more.
A marvelous set has been designed by Beowulf Boritt, which gives the appearance of a quaint old burlesque-house stage, feels somehow appropriate for the Agatha Christie-type mystery that these folks are camping up so brilliantly.
Lighting designer Joshua Reaves brings lights up and down from myriad places on the stage for myriad effects, and his use of shadows of various sorts hearkens to a feeling of film noir, that is similarly appropriate.
This show could not be possible without the two astonishingly talented and energetic performers, Brandon Lambert, who plays the wanna-be detective, and Martin Landry, whose preposterous versatility creates 13 distinct suspects, with identifiable quirks and mannerisms that told which one he playing each time. The positions from which they play piano together, and their extraordinary skill on that instrument, are enough for an entire show in themselves. Auditions for this show must have been a huge chore.
Murder for Two at NCT is a refreshing new musical comedy, in a style that, at least, is rare if not completely unique, and is just plain wonderfully entertaining and fun. It will play Fletcher Opera Theater through Sunday, May 5th.
SECOND OPINION: April 26th Raleigh, NC CBS17 interview with actors Brandon Lambert and Martin Landry, conducted by Taniya Wright: https://www.cbs17.com/video/-murder-for-two-coming-to-duke-energy-center_20190426171101/1956752087.
The North Carolina Theatre presents MURDER FOR TWO at 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 27 and 28, 7:30 p.m. April 30-May 3, and 2 and p.m. May 4 and 5 in A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $50.22-$97.22, except $25 college-student tickets.
NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext. 6944, or http://www.nctheatre.com/tickets/season-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/369155/2492449.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6941, ext. 6949; firstname.lastname@example.org; or http://nctheatre.com/groups.
SHOW: https://nctheatre.com/shows/murder-for-two, https://www.facebook.com/events/2087613371501868/, and https://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/events/murder-two-north-carolina-theatre.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_3odDc5SMY.
2018-19 SEASON: https://nctheatre.com/show-season/201819-season.
NCT NEWS RELEASE: https://nctheatre.com/blog/murder-two-cast-announced.
PRESENTER: http://www.nctheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/nctheatre, https://twitter.com/nctheatre, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/nctheatre.
NCT BLOG (Stage Notes): http://www.nctheatre.com/stage-notes.
Murder for Two (2011 Chicago and 2013 Off-Broadway musical): http://murderfortwomusical.com/ (official website) and http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/5648 (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
Study Guide: https://www.bard.org/study-guides/murder-for-two-study-guide (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
Joe Kinosian (book and music): http://www.kinosianandblair.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/43067 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/joe-kinosian-497052 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2681034/ (Internet Movie Database).
Kellen Blair (book and lyrics): http://www.kinosianandblair.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/43068 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/kellen-blair-497072 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1373405/ (Internet Movie Database).
J. Scott Lapp (director): http://jeremylapp.com/Welcome.html (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/43216 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/j-scott-lapp-491141 (Internet Broadway Database).
Wendy Seyb (choreographer): https://www.wendyseyb.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/34957 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/wendy-seyb-489196 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0786708/ (Internet Movie Database).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on Amazon.com. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori previously reviewed theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.