Review: “Murder for Two” in Santa Rosa

One way theatre companies have responded to the pandemic and its related restrictions is to produce smaller shows. Solo performances, two-handers, small-cast dramas and comedies and stripped-down musicals have been the season openers on most local stages.

Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse opens their GK Hardt Theatre with Murder for Two, a title that neatly sums up the plot and highlights the exact number of cast members required to perform it. It runs through October 10.

Lyricist Kellen Blair (Scrooge in Love) and author/composer Joe Kinosian’s 90-minute musical send up of Agatha Christie murder mysteries was originally workshopped at San Francisco’s 42nd Street Moon before having an award-winning run off-Broadway. That it’s not done as frequently as other somewhat-thematically-similar shows (e. g.  The 39 Steps) can be attributed to its casting requirement for two top-notch piano-playing actor/singers. 

Renowned author Arthur Witney is shot dead as he enters his staid Victorian mansion. There’s no lack of suspects as his family, friends, and associates have gathered to throw him a surprise party. Surprise!

Trevor Dorner, Ginger Beavers

First on the scene is Officer Marcus Moscowicz (Trevor Dorner), a detective wanna-be who’s sure a promotion awaits him if he solves the case. All he has to do is musically interrogate all the guests/suspects and figure out whodunnit.

There’s Dahlia Witney, the victim’s wife; Steph Witney, the victim’s niece who just happens to be writing a college paper on small-town murders; ballerina Barrette Lewis, the victim’s mistress; Murray & Barb Flandon, the victim’s squabbling neighbors; psychiatrist Dr. Griff, who seems to be treating everyone; and the three surviving members of a twelve member boys choir.  All of the aforementioned suspects are played by Ginger Beavers.

Dorner, who’s toured nationally as Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet as well as productions of Murder for Two as the suspects, takes a stab at Officer Marcus for the first time. His tall and lanky detective is a good counterpart to the diminutive Beavers, whose character changes are accomplished via voice (her Dahlia seems to be channeling Leslie Jordan), physicality, minor costume adjustments, and the occasional puppet.

The songs are amusing (“So What If I Did?” is a highlight) and the piano playing is fantastic, but a more intimate venue – like 6th Street’s Monroe Stage – would have served the Laura Downing-Lee directed show better. A lot of Beaver’s physical comedy is swallowed up by the larger auditorium.

Silliness reigns in Murder for Two. You may not die laughing, but at the very least you’ll leave the theatre with a smile on your face.  

‘Murder for Two’ runs through October 10 in the GK Hardt Theatre at 6th Street Playhouse. 52 W. 6th Street, Santa Rosa. Fri. & Sat., 7:30pm; Sat. & Sun., 2pm. $22-$38. 707.523.4185.

Proof of vaccination and masking are required to attend.

Photos by Eric Chazankin

This review originally appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian and Pacific Sun.

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