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JD Dumas and Tony Houck. (Photos courtesy of Daren Scott.)

Popular murder mystery musicals are surprisingly scarce. While there are a few, such as The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Curtains that are routinely produced, others such as Nick & Nora and Baker Street are rarely put on by theatre companies.

New Village Arts Theatre’s terrifically cheeky production of, Murder for Two, tells an entertaining story, and serves as a showcase for two artists.

During a New England birthday party for the novelist, Arthur Whitney, an unknown assailant shoots the famous writer to death. Marcus Moscowicz (JD Dumas), a by the book officer, who yearns to become a detective, soon stops by the author’s home.

Hoping to move up the ranks, Marcus decides to solve the mystery himself. Initially excited to crack the case, he becomes aggravated with the strange personalities of many of the suspects who had potential motives to end Arthur’s life, including the writer’s wife, Dahlia (Tony Houck).

The script from Joe Kinosian (who provides music) and Kellen Blair’s (who provides lyrics) requires a lot from the two leads. Each of the stars need to be strong actors, singers and take turns playing a piano in musical numbers. The men go above and beyond what is required for them in their roles.

Both Dumas and Houck are equally excellent piano players and singers, but Houck gets the showier role representing the various suspects. From his body posture to vocal delivery, Houck keeps audiences glued to the stage with his hilarious portrayals of characters ranging from a trio of choirboys to a raunchy European dancer, Barrette Lewis.

That doesn’t mean that Dumas should be overlooked. He is intentionally giving a more subtly funny performance. Similar to most comedy duos, Dumas is serving as the straight man to Houck’s antics, and keeps theatregoers rooting for the officer to succeed.

Kinosian and Blair’s book features humorous references to mystery tropes, theatrical conventions and dysfunctional relationships. Even a reoccurring joke involving the titles of Arthur’s book, that at first seems gimmicky, leads to some big laughs.

Since the first part of the story involves a good amount of set up, the majority of the funnier jokes are reserved as Marcus gets to know the suspects.

Tony Houck.

Kinosian and Blair’s songs are catchy to hear, with songs including “Protocol Says” and “A Lot Worse” in particular standing out at the Carlsbad venue. Others, such as “It Was Her” and “Steppin’ Out of the Shadows” play into the outlandish personalities of several
of the suspects.

Each tune and bizarre conversation is staged with expert comic timing by Director of Connectivity, AJ Knox. His work involves imagination and creative choices, since the narrative doesn’t rely on fancy scenery or spectacle for the mystery. Keira McGee’s costumes are classic and perfectly fit the characters as they enthusiastically play the piano.

And Paul Canaletti, Jr’s lighting, is over-the-top, especially whenever red is used to symbolize blood.

Violet Ceja’s audio had some minor issues in an early performance, yet her sound effects contribute to the goofiness of the theatrical piece, particularly the repeated screaming of a hapless cat.

Murder for Two highlights the many talents of its leads, without ignoring the twisty mystery at the center of the evening. Knox, Dumas and Houck make this an extremely fun evening for the sleuths in all of us.

DOWNLOAD MUSICAL NUMBERS AND CAST AND CREW HERE

[box] Show times are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m, Fridays at 8:00 p.m, Saturdays at 3:00 p.m and 8:00 p.m and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. [/box]

Photo of New Village Arts Theatre
New Village Arts Theatre
Work 2787 State St, Carlsbad CA 92008 USA Work Phone: 760.433.3245 Website: New Village Arts Theatre website
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David Dixon

David Dixon

A fan of theatre from a young age, David Dixon began writing reviews while in middle school, for Union Tribune’s Rated G column and sdcnn.com. He was the Entertainment Editor for SDSU’s The Daily Aztec. Currently, he contributes to San Diego Community News Network, a regional reviewer for Talkin’ Broadway, an interviewer for San Diego Theatre Reviews and has won several San Diego Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards. David is a San Diego Theatre Critics Circle member, an American Theatre Critics Association member & Regional Theatre Tony Award voter.

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