CARLSBAD – If you saw and liked the recent Rian Johnson film “Knives Out,” then New Village Arts’ (NVA) upcoming show “Murder for Two” will be right up your alley. The musical-comedy whodunnit by Kellen Blair and Joe Kinosian follows small-town policeman Marcus Moscowicz, who gets his chance to play detective — his dream profession — when famous author Arthur Whitney “fatally killed.”
Moscowicz must figure out who amongst the multitude of suspects murdered the writer before the actual detective in charge of the case can arrive on the scene. What is particularly notable about this production is that there are only two onstage actors; Moscowicz is played by JD Dumas, whereas Whitney’s potential killers are all portrayed by Tony Houck.
The show is being directed by New Village Arts’ Director of Connectivity AJ Knox, who knew an original Broadway cast member, Brett Ryback, from college and discovered the show through him.
“I just think it’s one of those shows that is just so inventive and goofy and fun and such a showcase for two really, incredibly talented performers,” Knox said. “Because they have to sing, dance, play the piano and play multiple roles, often all at the same time.”
Houck has been involved with several prior NVA productions and was cast directly for this show. His performance of multiple characters, from prima ballerina Barrette Lewis to Whitney’s scene-stealing wife Dahlia, incorporates more than just a series of funny voices to differentiate each person.
After consulting with Ryback and Kinosian, Knox said that regarding having a single actor playing multiple roles, “the biggest thing you have to do is let the characters emerge kind of naturally.” Each of Houck’s characters needed to be portrayed with truth, emotional honesty and be given histories.
The change in characters will also be accentuated by changes in Houck’s wardrobe; both he and Dumas will be wearing neutral base-layers of clothing to serve as their default costumes, and Houck can switch out ‘”accent” pieces of clothing for different roles and musical numbers, like scarves and hats.
Knox described the musical and comedic style of the play is something akin to a mix of vaudeville and cabaret; there will be wordplay, riffs on other Broadway shows and self-referential humor. He described how on a Dec. 3 rehearsal, just to try something new, Houck climbed onto a piano both he and Dumas will be playing so that he could play it from atop the instrument.
“I think it’s one of those shows where you come and it’s 90 minutes of music and laughter and goofiness that is pretty accessible to pretty much everyone. It’s just a great little piece of entertainment, I think,” Knox said. “Classic entertainment.”
The show runs from Feb. 1 to March 1, with previews running from Jan. 24 to Jan. 31. New Village Arts considers the show’s content to be on par with that of a PG-13 film, so some parental guidance for smaller children is suggested. Ticket prices range from $28 to $50 and can be reserved at newvillagearts.org.
Alex Wehrung covers Rancho Santa Fe and theatre-related news in North County. He previously reported for The Daily Nexus in Santa Barbara, CA and the Escondido Times-Advocate in Escondido, CA.