The people behind Murder for Two don't want you to take the show too seriously. Not only is it light-hearted in nature, the actors roam (and prance) around the stage with a persistent wink and nod to the audience. In fact, many of the best jokes, and the show's best material, come through direct addresses or knowing references to being on stage, in front of us. While some plays try and fail at this enterprise, Murder for Two delivers on its promise. Here, actor and composer Joe Kinosian answers some of my questions, via email:
You co-wrote the book and wrote the music for this show, and you also star in it. Is there anything you can't do?
Kinosian: You're very kind. There's plenty I can't do! For one thing, I'm always ending my sentences with prepositions before. For another, I, sometimes use, more, commas than I, need. No but honestly -- the thing I strive to work on is absorbing choreography. I can do it in time, but it takes me good long while of drilling, more than (I think) it does for most performers. When I started in this run of Murder For Two, I occupied every second our dance captain was willing to give!
Murder for Two sounds like a passion project for you. What message do you hope the audience takes home with them?
Kinosian: Because the physical world of Murder For Two is largely invented by the two actors, I guess there is an implied message of "hey, we can put on a show by ourselves!" It's very collaborative, with the two actors pulling together to make the show happen, while two characters pull together to solve the crime, and if there's any real-life parallel to that message, it's how my writing partner, Kellen Blair, and I have definitely found we work better together than apart.
Performing alongside Brett Ryback, you both are skilled actors as well as singers and piano players. How critical was it when casting to find the right person for the role of "Marcus"?
Kinosian: Very critical! Casting across the board was intense -- there's a lot of skills the actors need to have to do this show. For example, while singing and playing the piano is one thing, playing piano while SPEAKING is quite another -- it's very hard to keep rhythm with your hands while decidedly not keeping rhythm with your words. All of the actors we initially cast: Brett, Jeff Blumenkrantz as the Suspects in the initial part of the run, and the two understudies, Adam Overett and Jeremiah Ginn, are not only multi-talented but able to juggle those requisite talents to maximum effect onstage. I'm blown away and humbled by them all.
You show a real mastery of various faces and voices, playing upwards of ten characters in 90 minutes. Does it get easier to keep up the pace and energy after so many performances?
Kinosian: It definitely does, because it's only over time that you learn where you really need to push through and where you can (momentarily) take a breath. It's a fine balance to give it your all physically and vocally for 90 minutes straight without blowing out. The more you get used to the cadence of the evening, the more fun it gets. And, speaking for myself, while it's exhausting, it's also an absolute blast.
How did you ensure that every character you played would sound different from the next one?
Kinosian: I played around a lot with the voices, because they're pivotal to creating the illusion. Steph, the aspiring criminologist, is a woman of about 25, who never stops asking questions, so it made sense that her voice would be high and sort of needy-sounding, with an inquisitive upward inflection at the end of nearly every sentence. I feel that my job during her ballad "He Needs a Partner" is to make the audience forget, even if it's just for a moment, that they're looking at a 6'4" man and see HER, Steph, in all her needy, self-sabotaging glory, and the appropriateness of her voice is ultimately what sells the moment. Once all the characters' voices were basically settled, it was a matter of fine-tuning the ones that sounded too much alike to ensure that the audience was never confused. And fine-tuning again. I enjoy striving to give the full range of vocal effects and keep them all distinct. It's a challenge, to be sure, but also a joy, and I feel beyond lucky to have a challenge like that 8 times a week.