Halifax Neptune Theatre’s production of the musical comedy Murder for Two, currently on stage at its Scotiabank Studio Theatre, is nothing short of a theatrical perpetual motion machine, thanks primarily to its two actors, Scott Pietrangelo and Jackson Seib.
Anyone who caught Neptune Theatre’s The Play That Goes Wrong, which just wrapped its run next door, and was delighted like me by its breakneck speed is in for a surprise, as director Jeremy Webb ups the ante in this musical comedy two-hander.
Murder For Two revolves around a murder during a surprise birthday party for a wealthy novelist who has angered more than just a few of the guests over the years via his books. A shot rings out before one can say “opening musical number,” and the writer is found dead. In true Agatha Christie fashion, the room is full of suspects as police officer Marcus Moscowicz (Pietrangelo) arrives on the scene, hoping to solve the case and impress his boss enough to realize his dream of earning his detective badge.
Watching Seib, in particular, tasked with playing the assembled dozen suspects, his energy and versatility are astounding. Wiry and limber, Seib prances about the stage as he takes on the varied caricatures, including the dead man’s dingbat wife, an amateur sleuth and a celebrated ballerina. Particularly funny is a trio of rascally boy choir members that Seib rotates through seamlessly with a twist of a Newsie’s hat. And wait until you see him as a bickering pair of neighbours who can’t seem to get enough of each other. Seib works so hard that his vest is soaked with sweat by intermission.
While Seib may have the more difficult job of the two, that is not to say that Pietrangelo doesn’t help keep things moving as he interrogates each suspect, perfectly happy to be the foil to Seib’s relentlessly transitioning characters. And because he has only a single role, Pietrangelo finds some depth in his role as the detective in a show that is so frantic it doesn’t allow for much character development.
There is also a natural chemistry between Seib and Pietrangelo, who play off each other in sometimes surprising ways and appear to be having the time of their life on stage together. That chemistry goes a long way in a show more about what two talented actors can do on stage with the material than it is about the whodunit (although, to be fair, my guest on opening night was all about trying to guess who the killer was).
Audience interaction is also a big part of Murder For Two, as the two actors constantly break the fourth wall and illicit assistance from audience members on a couple of occasions, with hilarious results.
And while on its surface, Murder For Two may be a run-of-the-mill comedic send-up of the classic whodunit, which does take a little time to find its footing, what makes it unique and eminently watchable is that both Pietrangelo and Seib accompany themselves on the grand piano, dominating center stage in Vickie Marston’s set which has a few surprises of its own. The duo’s piano virtuosity is sometimes astounding, with the show’s four-handed encore deservedly designed to bring the audience to its feet.
In perpetual motion, there is little doubt that if one could bottle the power generated on stage by Pietrangelo and Seib, energy insecurity would be a thing of the past.
Murder For Two, with book and music by Joe Kinosian and book and lyrics by Kellen Blair. Directed by Jeremy Webb. A Neptune Theatre production co-produced with Festival Antigonish Summer Theatre. On stage at Neptune Theatre’s Scotiabank Stage until November 5. Visit neptunetheatre.com for tickets and information.