Have we got good news for you! We are happy to report that, after months of state-mandated coronavirus-induced shutdowns, live theater has returned to Phoenix with a vengeance. More specifically, it has returned with a murder!
MURDER FOR TWO opened this past weekend to a nearly packed house…er…courtyard. Such is the Phoenix Theatre Company‘s current live performance venue. And true to its off-Broadway roots, MURDER FOR TWO delivers all of the best features you would expect from a well-written, expertly directed, and masterfully executed musical comedy show.
MURDER FOR TWO consists primarily of two characters (plus a ubiquitous piano player who is the silent straight man for much of the show), on a sparse stage that serves as the drawing room of the fine, old mansion of a rich and eccentric old couple. They, along with their eight guests and two police officers wind their way around, over and through each other, in a “danse pandemique” — a phrase we take full credit for coining — of safely-distanced stage interaction. Our cast, having found themselves witness to a gruesome murder by an unknown assailant, huddle around the body of one of their number while the heat is turned up by the officer in charge of the scene on the remaining individuals, now suspects in the homicide.
All of this is accomplished by a total of three actors! To be honest, at first we were skeptical. But about 30 seconds into the production, we were totally sold on the idea…and loved it. In particular, Toby Yatso (“The Suspects”) does the heavy lifting, playing no less than ten different roles. His effortless transitions among a menagerie of quirky, finger-pointing characters, both male and female, young and old, amount to a full-body sleight-of-hand. At no time do we ever need to pause to say “now which one is he this time?” Yatzo’s non-stop segues from one suspect to another are seamless and unobtrusive.
The epicenter of this whirling dervish of characters is Seth Tucker (“The Detective”), who plays a detective wannabe, convinced that all he needs to do is follow standard police department protocol in order to follow the clues and deduce the identity of the killer. Lastly, doing double duty as an assisting officer and the show’s piano accompaniment, Kevin White (“Lou”) mutely buoys Yatso and Tucker through their uproarious musical numbers.
MURDER FOR TWO kept us laughing for the better part of the performance. We were lucky there were some pregnant pauses to allow us to catch our breath. Much the same can be said about the musical numbers, each of which was a rollicking contortion of vocal cadence and lyrical rhymes. More importantly, each song was both meaningful to the plot and totally hilarious to listen to.
The non-stop banter between “Detective” and “Suspects” is fanciful, eccentric and fresh. We’ve been around the block a few times, and can tell an old gag when we hear one. That was definitely not the case here. The playwrights exercised maximum creativity to be original, inventive, and intensely clever and funny. Kudos go to co-bookwriters, composer Joe Kinosian and lyricist Kellen Blair. Kinosian and Blair are sharply witty and playfully lyrical. To their credit, the show ran for a year off-Broadway and has been continuously produced across the United States and internationally since 2014.
The Phoenix Theatre Company can take pride in the news that Actors Equity, the performers’ union, has approved the Company, based on its safe practices, to hire Equity actors to perform in its outdoor venue. In fact, MURDER FOR TWO is the first Equity-approved production in Arizona since March 2020. This is not a trivial honor. Actor unions are notorious for protecting their members. An allowance such as this is truly something to be proud of. With that in mind, it is interesting to note that the three performers were never closer than six feet from each other, and that no object was touched by more than one person without being wiped down or handled with a disinfectant wipe. How this is accomplished during the course of the show is another astounding bit of writing and directing.
MURDER FOR TWO on the Phoenix Theatre Company’s outdoor stage is everything you would want and expect from a quality live theatre experience. Don’t miss it!