All good murder mysteries have twists. In the case of Murder For Two about to open at Stages Repertory Theatre that requirement goes beyond the whodunnit to the how-do-they-do-that in that it calls for two piano-playing actors who together play 13 roles.
Trace Pool and Ben Miller are the intrepid actors taking this on with Pool playing only one role, that of the inspector Marcus Moscowicz. "Marcus is a young, hard-working officer who at the start of the show is doing his best to move past his dark life and believes that if he just sticks to a strict set of protocols he can be successful in his career and his life," Pool says.
He comes to the home of Arthur Whitney a famous, great American novelist, and he encounters all the suspects who are waiting in the home after the murder. "The other actor, Ben Miller, just gives me as many obstacles to make me break protocol as he can get. To throw me off the game."
They both play the piano with each other and by themselves throughout the show.
Miller plays the ten suspects' roles (and if you're a math whiz and adding this up then yes you're at 11 parts. Expect a further surprise at the show).
"They are the sort of foils in a sense to our straight laced inspector," Miller says. "There’s a femme fatale ballerina; there's a very argumentative old couple. There's an over eager grad student who has always wanted to help solve a murder. They’re all suspects. They all have their own possible motives."
Most of Miller's changes of character are achieved through body language and voice although cat eye glasses help him achieve a Southern belle, he says.
"He is constantly becoming other people — as many as ten in one scene," says Stages Artistic Associate Mitchell Greco, who is directing and handling the choreography (yes there is dancing as well.)
Both actors said they prepared for the role by getting the music down first.
"I wanted to get the piano solidly under my belt first so I spent several months just practicing that," Pool says. "If I go up on stage, it’s not just me on the line, it's Ben left up in the air."
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Miller says: "I definitely started with the piano knew because I knew it would take the longest to learn and memorize. Then it's memorizing the lines. The true craziness is saying the right voice in the right character and then playing the piano. Once I started playing the piano in rehearsals I realized I wanted to look out at the audience and at Trace’s character more than at my hands so I had to kind of relearn some of the pieces a little bit so I could keep my eyes off of my fingers."
Greco says the show with book and music by Joe Kinosian and book and lyrics by Kellen Blair is set in present day. "It takes place in a New England mansion at the home of Arthur Whitney so there's a real Agatha Christie feel about it.
It's also akin to the movies Clue and Neil Simon's Murder By Death.," Greco says. "It will appeal to everyone. For those who love murder mysteries it's great. For those who love musical theater it's really smart, funny. The lyrics are razor sharp. It's wild and wildly entertaining to see these two pull the show off. Not everyone can do this."
Performances are scheduled for April 24 through June 16 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway. For information, call 713-527-0123 or visit stagestheatre.com. $25-$72.