Not every show can be a big Broadway musical, which is a reality that "Murder for Two" eagerly embraces.
The clever 90-minute production, which opened Wednesday night at New World Stages, is a celebration of smallness.
It has a cast of two actors, one of whom plays multiple characters. The performers also take turns at the piano so that the mini-musical can actually have music.
Jeff Blumenkrantz, tall, lanky and bald, tirelessly portrays a dozen or so people, all of them suspects in the murder of a famous novelist, who was shot at his surprise birthday party.
The investigating detective is portrayed by Brett Ryback, shorter and more conventionally handsome.
The evening's running joke is its minimalism. Props and stage effects are in short supply. A door seeming to open by itself serves as a major theatrical moment.
When the two actors realize one of them must play the piano in a scene that requires the other to cradle a dying man, a member of the audience is recruited to portray the expiring character.
Blumenkrantz, an extremely resourceful actor but not a practitioner of exact impersonation, jumps nimbly between cartoonishly broad characters just by changing his voice and posture.
Sometimes, as an aid, he raises or lowers a pair of eyeglasses. To portray three different members of a boys' choir, he rapidly changes the angle of his baseball cap.
The two actors are fortified by the jaunty tunes of composer Joe Kinosian and the often smart and amusing lyrics of Kellen Blair.
Kinosian and Blair combined to write the book, which isn't very involving -- which is part of the point.
It doesn't really matter who the murderer is, or that the detective's methods are inscrutable. It's the doing of the show - a kind of inventive making-do, really -- that we connect to.
Under the direction of Scott Schwartz, the production has a merry, conspiratorial feeling. There are some slow spots - and feeble jokes -- but they're invariably redeemed by a witty line or unexpected swoop of physical comedy.
At the end, Blumenkrantz and Ryback sit together at the piano and play a rousing four-hand piece, with crossover acrobatics. They're the pleased-looking picture of perfect collaboration.
MURDER FOR TWO
New off-Broadway musical, at New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St.
Book by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair. Music by Kinosian. Lyrics by Blair. Directed by Scott Schwartz.
With Jeff Blumenkrantz and Brett Ryback.
Schedule: 7 p.m. Monday; 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 2 and 7 p.m. Wednesday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $47 to $77. 212-239-6200, or telecharge.com.
A service of YellowBrix, Inc.
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