Orange County Theatre Reviews

Written by Daniella Litvak 

Mystery writer Arthur Whitney was fatally shot at his surprise birthday party. Who did it?

JIM COX Southern belle Dahlia Whitney (Kyle Branzel), wife of murder victim Arthur Whitney, leaps onto the piano and at her chance to show off her musical theater singing skills, while Marcus (Ian Lowe), the police officer investigating her husband’s death, tries to kill the electrical power, in Laguna Playhouse’s Orange County premiere of the Off-Broadway musical “Murder for Two.”

Photo Courtesy: JIM COX

The Whitney mansion is filled with suspects, and it is up to Officer Marcus to find the murderer.

While Marcus is preoccupied with finding out who did the deed, the question I want answered is “how.” How is Murder For Two  not a disaster? It’s a murder mystery, a musical, and a comedy which features only two actors (Kyle Branzel and Ian Lowe).  One of these actors plays the role of every single suspect, and also plays the piano, which is practically the sole source of musical accompaniment. This should be the textbook definition of an overwrought, gimmicky show with too many ideas. Yet somehow it works.

The writing is clever, entertaining, and self-deprecating. Like most comedies it has its share of bad puns, bawdy jokes and subverted rhymes. But most of it is remedied with catchy songs and fun acting. The song “Protocol Says” was stuck in my head during the entire car ride home.

The actors burst onto the stage, and they never let up.   Lowe does a wonderful job demonstrating how neurotic Marcus and the suspects are, while retaining his down on his luck everyman qualities. Branzel impresses with the variety of distinct characters he plays. For the most part there aren’t any costume differences among the different roles, so the audience is dependent on his diction and body language to determine which character he is playing.  Thanks to Branzel’s performance, I was able to easily identify the characters. Branzel and Lowe have great chemistry. They need to be complimented on their musicianship too. Some of the best moments in the show come from just watching their passive aggressive piano duets.

Like all good mysteries, the audience is kept on its toes. Sure Murder For Two gleefully confesses to both killing characters and the genre of musical theatre in general, but this show is alive. 

8.3/10

Side note : I was thinking that the set reminded of me of the rooms in Clue, I noticed some interesting items displayed on set’s shelves: a candlestick, knife, lead pipe, revolver, rope and wrench. There are plenty other visual gags. 

April 22nd – May 17th 

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