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Two actors populate the stage with more than a dozen characters, including at least one dead body, in “Murder for Two,” a musical mystery from the Theater at Monmouth. It is a marvel to observe two young men, Quinn Corcoran and Robbie Harrison, manifest all the parts, and be their own musical accompaniment to boot, as they sing their way to solving a crime.
The theme for the Theater at Monmouth’s 50th anniversary season is “What Dreams May Come.” Director Adam Blais must have thanked his lucky stars and the heavens above in his casting choice as this two-person show requires the ability to act, sing, play piano proficiently, and perform comedic physical humor.
Corcoran and Harrison are Blais’ dream come true as the duo have talent and energy to spare to perform this engaging 90-minute madcap comedy.
“Murder for Two” is a fairly new stage production, first performed in 2011, with book and music by Joe Kinosian and book and lyrics by Kellen Blair. It honors and borrows from Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, and other masters of mystery.
The plot unfolds after someone at a surprise birthday party murders famous mystery author, Arthur Whitney, by shooting him in the forehead as he walked in the darkened house. An ambitious police officer, Marcus Moscowicz, played by Corcoron, arrives on the scene with his invisible partner Lou to follow protocol and question the party attendees for motive and cause.
As the night progresses, it turns out that the host and everyone invited, all characters comically acted by Harrison, had just cause for killing the man, leading to hilarious confessions and mayhem as Marcus is under the clock to solve the mystery – and look competent enough to be promoted to detective — before his boss arrives.
Though full of mystery tropes, including the obligatory trench coat and fedora, the Monmouth production feels fresh and original as it zips along. Blais explained in a Q & A after the show that he made the executive decision to add props to help the audience keep the characters straight.
For example, Harrison uses a silly conical birthday cap and a Southern drawl for Mrs. Whitney, a cigarette that alternates from left hand to right hand stands for one half of long-married couple Bobbi and Murray, a pair of reading glasses and sentences that end in uptick exemplify the know-it-all collegiate Stephanie.
In addition to changing voices and gestures, these rapid prop switches add humor. In fact, the pace allows little time for the audience to catch its breath from laughter or the actors to take strategic sips of water to wet their whistles.
Choir boys singing “It Could Be Worse” and offering advice to Marcus on how to “just put your lips together and blow” when he needs them in a pinch is just one knee-slapping moment of many.
Catchy tunes, piano playing with four hands and choreographed bench bumping keep the humor rolling along. Solving the mystery isn’t the point of the play. When not guffawing at jokes, jaws will still be open in wonder at the sheer talent displayed here. Harrison, at one point, bends over the piano from behind it to play left hand to Corcoran’s right while not losing a beat in music or comedic timing.
While it is clear from the size and position at center stage that the upright instrument is considered a third character, Corcoran and Harrison are the two to watch. Catch their criminally talented show this summer in Monmouth.
Theater at Monmouth productions are performed at historic Cumston Hall. To buy tickets or for more information about “Murder for Two” and other plays being performed in repertory this summer, visit theateratmonmouth.org.