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Dynamic duo - 'Murder for Two'

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Dynamic duo - 'Murder for Two' (Photo courtesy of PTC/Magnus Stark)

Two-person thriller features music, mystery and utter mayhem

BANGOR There's murder afoot at the Bangor Opera House.

Penobscot Theatre Company presents 'Murder for Two,' a thrilling musical murder mystery. The book is written by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, with Kinosian writing the music and Blair writing the lyrics. The comic thriller directed by Bari Newport - runs through Nov. 6.

This show is fast-paced, frantic and funny. It is a whirlwind of activity, a cavalcade of characters traipsing across the stage in an effort to prove their innocence to the eager try-hard police officer who hopes to use this case to elevate him to a new level. More than a dozen people are somehow involved.

A dozen people but just two actors.

Jason Cohen plays the ambitious and goofy small-town cop, while Danielle Erin Rhodes plays, welleverybody else.

Marcus Moscowicz is a policeman in a small town. His overarching goal? To achieve the rank of detective and start doing some heavy-duty police work. Late one night, opportunity knocks. Or rather opportunity shoots.

The beloved novelist Arthur Whitley has been murdered at his surprise birthday party. All of the guests were poised in the dark, so no one witnessed the shooting except the guest who pulled the trigger. Marcus is the only available officer the real detective is over an hour away so this is his shot at the big time, figuratively and literally. With his trusty (and silent) partner Lou by his side, he leaps into the investigation.

Marcus is left to question the motley assemblage of guests in an effort to deduce the identity of the murderer. There's Dahlia, Arthur's now-widow. The town psychiatrist Dr. Griff is also there. So too is the noted ballerina Barrette Lewis. There's the bickering couple from next door and even a boys' choir for some reason.

In addition, there's Steph, Arthur's niece who just happens to be attending graduate school for criminology and would very much like to lend her assistance. Unfortunately, Marcus has been burned by partners in the past he's not sure if he can risk being hurt again.

So with the clock ticking, Marcus must follow official protocols and determine who killed Arthur Whitley. It's a small window and the suspects aren't going to make anything easy, bantering and singing songs and generally being difficult.

And it's all an absolute delight.

'Murder for Two' is one of those productions that impresses on a number of levels. The demands placed on the two actors are immense these people must be adept at not just acting, but singing, dancing and playing the piano. Quadruple threats are fairly thin on the ground as a rule, yet this script demands two of them.

Happily, director Newport found a pair that proved more than up to the task.

Cohen and Rhodes who also shared the musical director's chair to go along with their onstage duties (which kind of makes them quintuple threats, if you think about it) are an exceptional match to the material. The comedic chemistry between the two is top-notch, with each seeming to accentuate the strengths of the other. Both embrace the deceptively complex musicality of the piece as well, both vocally and instrumentally; there are a handful of musical moments scattered throughout that are jaw-dropping in their smooth dexterity.

Cohen has an aw-shucks ease about him that informs his portrayal of Marcus nicely. There's an underlying sweetness to him that lends an everyman poignancy to even the most ridiculous moments (of which there are many). That amiability serves him well against the rapidly-shifting character onslaught that Rhodes brings forth. Each new portrayal is just that new; the fluidity with which she changes gears is striking. Every member of Rhodes's multitude has their own face, their own voice, their own body language even as she seamlessly slides between them.

Filling a stage as large as that of the Opera House with just two actors is no easy feat. Newport and choreographer A.J. Mooney have done phenomenal work in filling the space; under their direction, Cohen and Rhodes are able to explore the expansive space while also creating a surprising degree of intimacy. Newport's keen sense of pacing and her willingness to work weird are an ideal fit for a show like 'Murder for Two.'

Jonathan Spencer pulls double duty on this one, providing both scenic and lighting designs. The set is dominated by the rotating piano at its center; it is offset by a stylized proscenium arch and a beautifully-textured curtain-inspired backdrop. The lights accentuate things exquisitely; the ever-changing colors of the backdrop are particularly mesmerizing. Kevin Koski's costumes are spot-on as usual - Rhodes in particular looks dynamite in an outfit that appears 'Cabaret'-inspired - and Brandie Larkin's sound design once again battles the Opera House's tricky acoustics to a standstill.

'Murder for Two' is a remarkably good time. The music is phenomenal and the laughs are plentiful; it's a romp in the best sense of the word. The dynamic duo at the show's center are incredibly talented and charismatic, producing engaging performances that make the brisk runtime fly by and leave you wanting more. From top to bottom, beginning to end, another first-rate effort from PTC.

In short, 'Murder for Two' is definitely worth a shot.

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2017 19:31

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