STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
Murder, mystery, and music make up the madcap mayhem in “Murder for Two.” The farcical two-man show closes the 40th anniversary season of Philadelphia Theatre Company (PTC).
The story: Officer Marcus Moscowicz is a small town policeman with dreams of being called Detective. One night, shots ring out at the surprise birthday party of great American novelist Arthur Whitney, who is killed. The nearest detective is an hour away, giving Marcus 60 minutes to solve the crime and perhaps be promoted, making his dream come true. During his investigation, he encounters a cast of characters, all played by one man, including a prima ballerina, an overly-friendly psychiatrist, and more. Which one committed the crime?
Kyle Branzel steps into the shoes (does the ballerina wear point shoes?) of The Suspects, all of them.
“It’s what makes our show fun and special,” he said.
It’s challenging, too, to create so many characters, but it’s cleverly done, he said, through voice and body changes as well as costume cues. The audience’s imagination fills in the rest, he said. Being so many people is fun for him.
“All of the characters sort of live deep inside of me,” Branzel said.
His favorites are Dahlia, a southern belle who’s the wife of the deceased, and Barrette the ballerina.
“They’re the most outrageous,” he said.
He loves comedy and hopes Philadelphia audiences will love this show (the musical has been touring after a 2013-2014 stint off-Broadway).
“I like doing it, but I’m learning it’s just as hard as the dramatic stuff,” he said. “It takes timing and just the right inflection sometimes. But it’s so much fun to do.”
Hearing the audiences laugh makes it even better.
“Audiences are as much a part of the show as we are,” he said.
Branzel, who has been involved in theater since second grade, said it’s the thing that has made him the happiest throughout his life. He hopes to play the baker in “Into the Woods,” the Cat in the Hat in “Seussical” and other iconic roles during his career. For now, he’s content playing many roles in one as half of the comedic duo that puts on “Murder for Two.”
The other half of the duo is Ian Lowe, who plays Marcus (through June 21; Brandon Lambert plays the role June 23-28). Lowe previously played the role off-Broadway, so he and Marcus are old friends. He’s excited to perform in Philly for the first time and will definitely have some cheesesteaks, he said.
He has his humorous moments, but “I’m sort of the straight man being faced with the zany characters,” Lowe said.
Like Branzel, Lowe enjoys comedy.
“It’s theater of the ridiculous,” he said. “It’s a farcical comedy in which I still have to solve a crime. That makes it more exciting.”
It keeps the men on their toes, too, as they both play the piano throughout the show. No matter how challenging — building relationships with all of Branzel’s characters, accompanying their singing on the piano, and keeping the show moving smoothly at its fast pace — it’s one of Lowe’s favorite projects to date. He has been a professional actor working off-Broadway and in regional theater for about 10 years. He hopes to perform iconic roles, including Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors” and the baker in “Into the Woods.”
In the meantime, both actors hope that people will come to see “Murder for Two” at PTC. They promise a good time will be had by all.
“It’s very silly,” Lowe said, “You also get to see the actors doing a whole variety of things. There’s comedy, dance, singing, vaudeville, and also a really fun musical element where we both play piano.”
Branzel wants audiences to know the show has something funny for everyone.
“Older audiences love the references to classic musical comedy and vaudeville,” he said. “Younger people will love the outrageous things that happen. It’s all good fun.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Murder for Two”
When: Previews June 6-7 and 9; opens June 10; runs through June 28.
Where: Philadelphia Theatre Company, Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Broad and Lombard streets, Philadelphia.
Tickets: $25-59 (student, senior, and group discounts available).
Info.: Call (215) 985-0420 or visit PhiladelphiaTheatreCompany.org.