‘Murder for Two’ is a madcap musical whodunit

Comedy and mystery collide in Old Globe Theatre production

What happens to a detective trying to solve a murder at a birthday party when he encounters a crowd of zany suspects comes to light in “Murder for Two” at The Old Globe Theatre.

Joe Kinosian plays The Suspects (and wrote the book and music along with Kellen Blair) and Ian Lowe portrays detective Marcus. Scott Schwartz (Old Globe’s “A Room with a View,” La Jolla Playhouse’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”) directs the musical, which the Jeff Awards titled Best New Work — Musical or Review — while the show was at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.

“My writing partner Kellen Blair and I were drawn to creating a silly farce based around a murder mystery,” Kinosian said. “We were influenced by screwball comedy performers and directors; the Marx Brothers above all others, but we love Preston Sturges’ wordplay as well.”

Lowe, who worked with Kinosian on “Murder for Two” in New York and on tour, said he responded to many of the play’s elements. “I’ve found a number of scripts that require an actor to play piano as they are always on my radar,” he said. “When I read this one, it totally appealed to my sense of humor, and the piano component was challenging and fun to tackle.

“There is a mystery being solved during the course of the evening, but the play is definitely a comedy first and foremost,” Kinosian said.

Lowe, a big fan of stories by Agatha Christie, Clue and other comedic murder mysteries, added, “I love that the show borrows from a lot of those ideas in this zany, screwball musical,” where the grand piano has a center-stage spot. “There are moments where director Schwartz and the actors found ways to make the piano theatrical in the show that adds to the storytelling.”

Lowe describes his character as someone who wants nothing more than to be a good detective. “Marcus is passionate about all things police-related,” Lowe said. “He’s memorized all the things that make up a great detective. He’s determined and focused on solving this mystery. But because it’s a comedy, the suspects are throwing thousands of wrenches into the mix that prevent Marcus from quickly finding a solution. He also has a backstory, so every step along the way is highly charged for him.”

Kinosian said, “When we were writing the play, that was the notion — this sweet, earnest, young police officer is trying to prove himself at the crime scene before the real detective shows up, and all of the suspects have different reasons and tactics to distract him from doing what he needs to do.”

Kinosian plays 10 characters and said each suspect evolved over time. “There are three members of a 12-member boys choir for which I walk on my knees for them and talk like a reject from a ‘Little Rascals’ movie. The leading female character is me imitating my friend, Lauren.”

Mystery and comedy usually have different audiences but not here, said the creators. “We’ve had a range of audiences and it’s been fun to see their responses,” Lowe said. “At a student matinee in Arizona, it was fun to see how they enjoyed the irreverent humor. I see it as having a PG-rating, but for precocious children, because there’s a lot of swear words.”

Kinosian said, “It’s cross-generational in its appeal; those age 60-plus will know the references to old movies, slapstick, screwball comedies, film noir and nods to vaudeville … those in their 30s or 40s will appreciate The Simpson’s- Family Guy-style delivery of surreal comedy. Patrons ages 12-18 will enjoy some immature jokes and a lot of people falling down.” u

IF YOU GO: “Murder for Two” runs through March 1 at The Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park, San Diego. Tickets from $29 at (619) 234-5623.