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Review: BRT stages silly murder-mystery musical comedy

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Comedy is difficult – both to perform and to recommend. What may prompt uproarious laughter from one audience member may leave another stone-faced.
So even though I barely cracked a smile during the entirety of “Murder for Two,” playing at Bristol Riverside Theatre through Oct. 10, I would hate to dissuade any silliness-loving theater-goer from taking a chance on this murder-mystery musical comedy – the theater’s first live production since the shutdown in March 2020.
Some might be amused by its script, or find its upbeat songs clever in their spoofing of Broadway and vaudeville traditions. Yet the wacky show, written by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, is not for those who really love musicals, as its parodies are more derisive than affectionate.
The musical two-hander concerns the murder of a celebrated American novelist, and the efforts of a detective-wannabe police officer to solve the crime by interviewing an array of suspects, including the novelist’s wife, a psychiatrist, a prima ballerina, a bickering old couple, an Irish firefighter, a flirtatious graduate student, and tough members of a street-smart boys choir.
But none of that matters much, as the production is mainly a showpiece for the antics of the one performer, Kinosian, who portrays all of the different suspects.
Martin Landry provides deft support in the role of the detective, and the two actors partner exquisitely. They expend heaps of energy in well-timed physical bits and brisk dialogue, and take turns accompanying one another’s singing, or sharing in four-handed arrangements, on the grand piano center-stage.

The production’s set design, by Beowulf Boritt, with its ghost light and illuminated proscenium arch, provides a not-so-subtle clue that what we’re in for is more of an investigation of the entertainment business than of a murder.
Since there’s no substantive character development or interesting plot points to make the storyline involving, and much of the humor pokes nastily at contemporary human behavior and social issues, the material ultimately proves off-putting – and that’s not to mention the song about a serial killer and suicide by hanging.
Kinosian goes off Robin Williams-style into rapid-fire riffs on random ideas, working desperately to elicit laughs, as if he’s competing in an improv comedy contest.
Nonetheless, all ends well. Aside from a funny running gag in which Kinosian repeatedly scolds an audience member about a ringing cell phone, the most entertaining aspect of the show is the duo’s unusually “active” piano-playing.
While one wishes to have heard more throughout the evening, once the murderer is exposed, we are treated to a fabulous piano duet. Both performers play beautifully, the music is catchy, and the way they climb over one another, fight, pose, sing, switch places on the bench and keyboard, and crack jokes without ever missing a musical beat is truly impressive.


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