Published On: Wed, Dec 14th, 2016

‘Murder for Two: Holiday Edition’ Sleighs It at Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope

Joe Kinosian and Brett Ryback. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Joe Kinosian and Brett Ryback. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

By John Dwyer

‘Twas the Night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, especially Arthur Whitney, world famous mystery writer, who is deader than a door nail, with a gunshot wound through his forehead.

But let me explain, because there is a whole lot of stirring going on in this amazing two-person musical that requires the actors to sing, act, play the piano and have an energy reserve so vast that they could be individually nominated for the new Secretary of Energy. The production snaps, crackles and pops throughout its approximately 100 minutes. And, as one cannot suspend suspense, there is no intermission.

The murder occurred on Christmas Eve at Arthur Whitney’s birthday party and, as the deceased skewered all of his guests in his detective roman a clefs, everyone is a suspect. The erstwhile Marcus (Brett Ryback) and Lou (who is not seen and remains off stage) are the first police officers to arrive at the scene. All of the suspects are played by the chameleon-like Joe Kinosian, who also wrote the music and co-authored the book and lyrics with Kellen Blair.

Mr. Kinosian’s transformations, using only eyeglasses, a cap or a scarf, defy reason and are a Christmas miracle itself. The suspects include Dahlia Whitney, the frustrated spouse who gave up her stage career to become an unappreciated housewife. Also, the neighbors, a feisty older couple immortalized in Whitney’s page turner, “The Feisty Older Couple.” The local head shrinker is a curmudgeon who has sold his patients’ stories to Whitney for profit. Barette Lewis is a beautiful ballerina who was Whitney’s secret lover. Stef is Whitney’s niece, who is studying criminal law and constantly asks too many questions. There is also a boys’ choir made up of locals, and Buttons, the Christmas Elf (don’t ask). Who could the savage killer be?

Marcus is determined to find out. If he can find the murderer, maybe the chief will make him a detective. Marcus is played with “Leave it to Beaver” eagerness by the irrepressible Brett Ryback. He uses proper police protocol to review his evidence, which he highlights in a peppy, amusing musical salute to procedure called “Protocol Says.” He interviews each Suspect (Kinosian) in an attempt to make them spill their guts and sing — which isn’t hard to do, as it is a musical.

The music and lyrics conspired with Kinosian’s deft performance to make “It Was Her” from the Feisty Older Couple and “A Lot Woise” from the boys’ choir side-splittingly funny. Also noteworthy was the sweet “He Needs a Partner.” And, amazingly, in each song, this over-accomplished duo accompany themselves on the baby grand piano that is center stage at the Whitney estate.

It’s manic, it’s fast paced, it’s vaudeville, and it’s performers and audience alike barreling through the evening like kids on Christmas Day, tearing through gift wrapping to find out the prize beneath. A definite homage to Agatha Christie, it’s all damn good theater. It’s no wonder that the play won the prestigious Jefferson Award for Best Musical in 2011 — the Windy City’s version of the Tonys. It was also an off-Broadway hit, earning Drama Desk, Drama League and Outer Critics Circle Award nominations.

Kudos to Director J. Scott Lapp who guided the production. Murder has never been so charming. “Murder for Two: Holiday Edition” runs through Dec. 31. Tickets are available at the Bucks County Playhouse online, or call (215) 862-2121.

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