by Beki Pineda

MURDER FOR TWO – Book and Music by Joe Kinosian; Book and Lyrics by Kellen Blair; Directed by Kelly McAllister. Produced by StageDoor Theatre (25797 Conifer Road, Conifer) through October 21. Tickets available at 303-838-0609 or stagedoortheatre.org.

Not too many theatres will be able to do this musical because it calls for two VERY talented male performers who can sing, act AND play the piano all at the same time. Luckily StageDoor Theatre found the two people in the musical theatre community who could take on this task and do it well. Both Brandon Bill and Blake Nawa’a are respected Musical Directors and performers in Denver and have put their multiple talents on display in this production.

A lighthearted murder mystery plot involves Arthur Whitney, the Great American Novelist, getting shot as he enters his own birthday party in the ancestral mansion. Marcus Moscowicz, a policeman anxious to become a detective, shows up to start the investigation (until the real detective gets there in an hour). The guests waiting to greet the victim (and now possible suspects) are Whitney’s  wife Dahlia, a Southern Belle whose career as a singer was ruined by her marriage to Whitney; a feisty fighting couple who are neighbors, Murray and Barb; Dr. Griff, his (and everyone else’s) psychiatrist who knows everyone’s hidden traumas; and Miss Barrette Lewis, a suspiciously sexual prima ballerina revealed to be Whitney’s lover thrown in for good measure. Later Steph, the victim’s niece described as the dumb grad student who asks too many questions, arrives as well and petitions to be the detective’s partner (“He Needs a Partner”). Following “Protocol,” everyone is questioned and, of course, everyone has a reason for wanting the author dead. His books have revealed all of their dirty little secrets . . . including the detective’s. So no one is exempt. Suspicion jumps from one character to another until the surprising denouement.

The fun of this musical merriment is not in reaching the conclusion but in enjoying the journey. Brandon Bill plays all of the suspects plus the three members of the boys choir hired for entertainment for the party and a manly fire fighter who arrives on the scene. With the addition of a hat, a pair of sunglasses or a physical gesture, he becomes each distinctive character. Murray stands splay-legged with his hands in his pockets; Barb has floppy boobs; Steph is shy and brushes her hair behind her ears incessantly; and so on through the list of suspects. His flamboyant ballerina (who admits to “being deranged but she’s changed”) must be seen to be believed and his little boy characters are versatile and adorable. When asked to leave the scene of the crime because of their youth, the trio proclaims they’ve “seen woise.” In a sample of the clever lyrics of this show, they proclaim:

“We spent a night trapped in Ikea once – beside a kid with diarrhea once. We saw a show called ‘Mamma Mia!’ once – And still we’re somehow smilin’!”

Blake Nawa’a moves the story through its telling as the hapless detective trying desperately to solve the crime before the other detective gets there and to get over his ex-partner Vanessa who broke his heart. He resists the advances of the ballerina and begins to notice cute little Steph. He bumbles his way through an investigation with no help from his (invisible) partner Lou clear to the end when, by the process of elimination, he discovers the killer!! We are entertained in the meantime by his beautiful singing voice and artistry on the piano.  Both players slide on and off (or share) the piano bench with equal ease.

Director McAllister has kept the show moving at a breakneck pace and maximizes the gifts of his performers. The show is enhanced by the frenetic activity dictated for Brandon as The Suspects and the more laid back rhythms allowed Blake as the Detective. But they must both be exhausted by the time the killer is revealed. The simple set – mostly an absolutely gorgeous grand piano – and a few hand props becomes the scene of the crime. I don’t know who made the puppet body for the boys choir – but it was adorable. This show is worth the drive to Conifer; if you miss this performance through your own neglect, they are hoping to tour it. So watch for additional performances to come!!

A WOW factor of 8.5!!