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When I was a kid, I loved the old movies the UHF channels ran on Saturday afternoons. My favorites were partners — comedian and straight man (Martin and Lewis, Abbott and Costello), or dancing partners like Shirley Temple and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.
Murder for Two sent me back to those days. It’s a uniquely told whodunit with only three actors, one of which is a piano — which got its own bow at the end of the evening.
Yes, a piano. The set is flanked by two doors, one to the mansion of our murder victim, novelist Arthur Whitney; right in the middle of the stage is the piano, in all its grand piano glory. This instrument is used to give further depth to an entire cast of characters — suspects in the murder, including a doctor, a married couple, Arthur’s wife, a ballerina, and a boys' choir — portrayed by only one actor, Kyle Branzel. The other actor, Ian Lowe, plays Marcus, an ambitious cop trying to solve the murder so he can be promoted to detective. They both play the piano, and are equally talented at that, but that’s where their equality ends.
Lowe’s performance was solid, but Branzel was dazzling in all of his parts. He’s a great physical comedian, reminiscent of Jerry Lewis or Jim Carrey, and kept the audience engaged. He made me feel that there were really a dozen people on that stage — my favorite was Stephanie, the murder victim’s niece. I wondered if he loved the old movies in which Jerry Lewis played multiple characters as much as I did.
What, When, Where
Murder for Two. Book and music by Joe Kinosian; book and lyrics by Kellen Blair. Scott Schwartz directed. The Philadelphia Theatre Company. Through June 28, 2015 at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Broad & Lombard Sts., Philadelphia. 215-985-0420 or http://philadelphiatheatrecompany.org/.
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