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Murder Mystery at a Piano Pace


Murder Mystery at a Piano Pace

‘Murder for Two’, comes to the Old Globe

Article by Alejandra Enciso Guzmán

Joe Kinosian (The Suspects, Book and Music) and Kellen Blair (Book and Lyrics) met in 2008 at a BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) Writers Workshop; a fully subsidized program for musical theatre writers. The idea for a vaudeville type of musical began… I had the opportunity to chat with Joe and Kellen as well as with Ian Lowe who is reprising the role of ‘Marcus’.

In order to start working on the book they first wrote down a list of plot ideas, a murder mystery was one of them and began to develop. “About six songs into that show, we kinda took a step back and noticed what was happening around us. Primarily that a lot of big theaters where dropping their shows and replacing them with shows like 39 steps , where people play a lot of different parts” Explained Kellen Blair. “We wanted to do a musical that could be produced. We started brainstorming” Added Joe Kinosian. A –two person murder mystery- was the solution.

One man plays the detective (Marcus) and will try to solve the case, as the other, plays the suspects. They wanted to show people what they had written. Moving forward, creativity was taken to the extreme. “The ammo going into it was, what if the Marx brothers performed an Agatha Christie play? What would that look like? And we just went from there” said Blair. As an actor, piano player and dancer, Joe Kinosian was the man to present the material. Great American novelist Arthur Whitney has been murdered at his own birthday party, and his killer could be any one of the guests. But this is no ordinary murder mystery. “Marcus is the kind of guy whose lifelong dream is to be a detective. He is incredibly passionate, anxious to prove himself and this opportunity comes up, so he can solve the murder of Arthur Whitney following protocol and hopefully become a detective by the end of the play” detailed actor Ian Lowe who also feels a couple of similarities towards his character pointing out the song ‘Protocol says’ where ‘Marcus’ shows his drive and level of wanting to be a perfectionist. “There is a lot of preparation that goes into learning the piano elements required by the show, and just rehearsing doing a farce. Work out timing, moments and relationship with your stage partner. –referring to Joe Kinosian – It really is a team project and like with all farce, it is all about timing and precision”.

Murder For Two’s world premiere took place at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater in 2011, and won the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Musical in Chicago. The mystery musical comedy, made its off-Broadway debut at Second Stage Uptown (before transferring to a commercial run at New World Stages) in 2013, earning nominations from the Drama League, Outer Critics Circle, and Drama Desk Awards. The tour officially opened December 4th, 2014 in Tucson, Arizona. San Diego is the next stop playing at the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage in the Old Globe Theatre, part of the Globe’s Conrad Prebys Theatre Center until Sunday March 1st.

“As a writer to have my work performed here and as an actor to be here at the Old Globe, is incredible” added Kinosian. San Diego also has a special place in Kellen’s heart. The Seattle born and raised lyricist has his ties in California. Going to Chapman University in Orange County and having a sister live in ‘America’s finest city’ for several years. “The Old Globe has been a part of my life growing up. I’ve seen a ton of stuff there and it kind of feels like a little full circle for me, I am very excited about seeing it there”.

As with all Broadway and Off Broadway productions that go on tour, the show will have different experiences. For example, in New York they had a 200 seat theatre, in Tucson it was a 600 seat venue. And it will be approximately the same number in San Diego.

The interchange with the audience is key, being that as the show is playing, the energy is as well. “We internalize that, and the show changes every night based on the energy that we are getting from the audience, it is really fun to explore for an actor”. Lowe was an understudy on the Off-Broadway production; he got the opportunity a year after he auditioned. Now being on the tour, he has gotten to work deeper with the material. “It is a farcical musical comedy murder mystery where both actors play the piano. To me, it combines a lot of elements like old fashioned Marx brothers’ comedy routines and throws them all together into this fun, zany 90 minute ride. It is very unique. We are very excited to be presenting at the Globe, knowing what an amazing institution it is… such a great opportunity to work here”.

The important question for Joe Kinosian after people see Murder for Two is –Did it make sense? – “You can’t laugh if you are confused. We worked hard to make sure every character’s role is crystal clear and that they have a voice. A memorable way of standing and being”.

The Murder For Two tour will continue for approximately a year and a half. And there will be licensed productions playing simultaneously in certain cities like Los Angeles and Pittsburg. “It does feel like this whole big, almost franchise that is so much bigger than any one or two people. It has become its own thing that has a life of its own. Almost like a parent watching his kid grow up and make his own decisions in a way. I remember huge moments of waiting until we went to Chicago and then it felt like forever to find out if we were going to New York. It has been such an exciting process and we do have to remind ourselves that it happened relatively speaking, so much faster than it usually happens. It’s been surreal”. Shared Blair.

Another important question is, what is next? After a developed musical inspired in a workshop, a Chicago world premiere, Off Broadway run and cast album recording…yes, what is next? (I say a Tony in the next few years…I am calling it!)…

The answer is… continuing to grow and, “Oh my God where is my second cast album”? Says Kellen. Well, the witty musical duo will have a reading in a couple of months regarding their second book. Another musical is on the works, a backstage farce. “You never know if you’re going to struck lighting twice in a row. But I feel that as long as you are doing projects that excite you and you are having fun doing them, what more can you ask for?” He concluded.

Vanguard Culture

Vanguard Culture is an online media entity designed for culturally savvy, socially conscious individuals. We provide original interviews and reviews of the people, places, and events that make up San Diego’s thriving arts and culture community, as well as curated snapshots of the week’s best, most inspiring and unique cultural and culinary events. We believe in making a difference in the world, supporting San Diego’s vibrant visual and performing arts community and bringing awareness to important social and community causes.

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