crime scene | Theater | Style weekly

In Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair’s Murder for Two musical comedy The audience follows ambitious small-town cop Marcus Moscowicz as he pursues his dream of becoming a detective, albeit through a minor deception.

When the great American writer Arthur Whitney is shot dead while arriving for his own surprise birthday party, Moscowicz finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation. Taking the opportunity to impress his boss, he decides to investigate the crime scene – and a room full of insane suspects – with the help of Lou, his invisible sidekick.

There’s just one small problem, though: everyone at the party has a motive for murdering the famous author, and their shenanigans and mind games make it difficult for Moscowicz to turn the murder on its head.

That show was an Off-Broadway hit in 2013, and now Richmond audiences can join in and make their own predictions about the crime at the Swift Creek Mill Theater where Murder for Two runs through February 26th. It’s a really fun show, family-friendly and full of surprises.

The first element of note upon entering the theater is director Tom Width’s whimsical set design, which gives the show a sense of the surreal with an unusual fireplace, mismatched furniture, and ornate decorative elements such as a marble staircase, Ionic columns, and multiple chandeliers. The many differently sized paintings on the wall in oddly angled frames will later spin and wobble as Joe Doran’s lighting design flashes wildly in a moment of chaos on stage.

Two actors appear in similar-looking costumes – Maura Lynch Cravey’s design gave each actor variations on a basic base of brown pants and buttoned shirts – and begin rearranging the pedestals and flowers onstage. As they remove the red velvet cover from the grand piano’s stage, it’s clear that this show will look very different from other mystery murder cases we may have seen in the past.

For one, these two actors have their hands full. Both Mark Schenfisch and Emily Berg-Poff Dandridge, who star in this production, are powerhouses. They share the chore of playing the piano while singing, dancing, impersonating multiple characters, and interacting with both an invisible man and a puppet. It’s like the show is trying to cram as much theatrical magic into one plot as possible, and the overload is the joke.

Portraying each of the murder suspects, including a trio of adorable children who swear they’ve seen worse than a corpse at a birthday party, Dandridge showcases her comedic range and mastery of physicality, moving seamlessly between characters throughout the show without ever confusing the audience as to which partygoer is speaking.

Schenfisch, who also serves as the musical director of this production, has performed in many of Show Officer Moscowicz’s regional productions, but his performance feels uniquely connected to this production, and the synergy between these two on stage makes it seem so , as if the show was written especially for her.

Width’s directing is lively and exciting, using space in surprising ways, and the sound design by Technical Director Liz Allmon includes lots of fun effects and a “womp womp” trumpet sound a la Charlie Brown, the language of the invisible man indicate a detail I enjoyed.

“Murder for Two” is more about showmanship than suspense. This is less about the crime plot and more about the impressive skills of the cast and crew behind what is ultimately a clever and entertaining production. Audiences should expect a laugh or two and some impressive piano skills and tricks.

Murder for Two at Swift Creek Mill Theater runs through February 26; Friday, Saturday and select Thursdays at 8:00 p.m. and select matinees at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $49. www.swiftcreekmil.com

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