A Musical Comedy Murder Mystery – All in One!
A ‘whodunit’ in musical form is the latest offering at Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia: Murder for Two is a silly comedy that keeps the audience guessing as to the perpetrator of the crime. The craziness comes from the fact Victoria Playhouse’s popular music director, Mark Payne, plays a multitude of suspects, while Alex Baerg is the wannabe detective.
The great American novelist, Arthur Whitney, is shot in the forehead at his own surprise party. Police officers arrive at the scene, but when the detective doesn’t show up, Baerg’s character decides to start the investigation. Naturally all the party guests, played by Payne, are suspects: the wife of the deceased, a feisty old couple, a psychiatrist, a prima ballerina, the niece of the deceased, and….have I missed anyone?
I can’t tell you anything more about the murder and the suspects, as that could spoil the plot. There is plenty of scope for guessing whodunit.
Not only do Payne and Baerg act out the roles and sing, they also provide the accompaniment for their singing. A grand piano sits at centre stage in the middle of an elegant drawing room, and both Payne and Baerg take turns at it, or often together, both playing brilliantly.
To cover the many characters he plays, Payne changes eyeglasses or hats. He comes up with a silly voice or a strange accent to define the character, all the while mugging for the audience. Unfortunately, it is unclear if a key character is male or female. Payne’s heavy black eyeglasses made one think it is a male character, but later we learn she is female. But other than that, each character is carefully delineated.
Baerg, playing the detective, deftly handles moving the props and makes sure he is speaking to the right character.
Both cast members deserve credit for handling the script and songs perfectly, while the characters change rapidly. Payne’s handling of all the hats, glasses or wigs is amazing, getting the right item and the right voice with the character. But, on occasion, both actors are shouting at the same time, making it impossible to understand either. Similarly, they sing different lyrics at the same time, and neither can be understood.
Unfortunately, the script suffers from two much exposition in the opening scene. The story is slowed down with too much unnecessary information about each character, making the first act seem long. We understand that Payne is playing several different characters, so is it necessary to know backstories and information on each person?
Most of the script is predictable and other than finding out who the guilty party is, there are few surprises. On opening night, the biggest laugh-out-loud moment came when an audience member was recruited to play the part of a dead body. Her inability to stay dead and not open her eyes and look at the singer was hilarious.
The set is excellent – a beautiful parlour, wallpapered and furnished perfectly. Credit for set construction goes to Richard Poore.
If you’d like to see two men show remarkable talent in remembering lines, lyrics, props, accents and just being in the right place at the right time, then maybe this murder mystery is for you.
Murder for Two continues at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until July 21. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or 519-882-1221 or visit www.thevpp.ca for tickets.
Photo: Alex Baerg and Mark Payne. Photo by Diane O’Dell.
Murder for Two
Book and Music by Joe Kinosian
Book and Lyrics by Kellen Blair
Directed by David Rogers
Performed by Alex Baerg and Mark Payne
Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia
July 2 to July 21, 2019
Reviewed by Mary Alderson