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‘Murder for Two — A Killer Musical’ delivers fun to die for

Alan Schmuckler Joe Kinosian Chicago Shakespeare Theaterís ìMurder for TwoóA Killer Musicalî directed by David H. Bell playing Upstairs Chicago

Alan Schmuckler and Joe Kinosian in Chicago Shakespeare Theaterís ìMurder for TwoóA Killer Musical,î directed by David H. Bell and playing Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare now through June 19, 2011. Photo by Liz Lauren.

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† Through June 19

† Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Upstairs, 300 E. Grand, on Navy Pier

† Tickets: $25-$30

† (312) 595-5600;

Updated: June 19, 2011 12:20AM

A playfully campy quality of artifice is obvious from the moment you take your seat for “Murder for Two — A Killer Musical,” the 90-minute performance triathlon by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair now in its world premiere at Chicago Shakespeare Theater Upstairs.

True, the grand piano placed center stage is very real, and it will be played in wild stride piano style by both Alan Schmuckler and Kinosian, two actor-singers and ace musicians who also might be labeled manic madmen. But then there is the elaborately wired model of a manor house suspended from the rafters, and the loveseat, potted plants and other furnishings that are of the 2-D trompe l’oeil variety. The exposed backstage theater rigging (the clever set is the work of designer Scott Davis) suggests a further mix of the mock and the real. And indeed, as soon as the actors appear, you understand they will be playing in a style reminiscent of Charles Ludlam, that late maestro of the Ridiculous Theatre and such shows as “The Mystery of Irma Vep.”

I confess I am not a Ludlamite, but audiences tend to love the sendup of conventions (in this case, all those Agatha Christie whodunits) and the fast-and-furious, larger-than-life role-playing he championed. And in “Murder for Two,” directed by David H. Bell, both such stylistic exercises get a heavy-duty workout.

There are two actors but a multitude of characters in the show. Schmuckler plays Marcus Moscowicz, a fledgling police officer determined to rise to the rank of detective in record time and to forget the pain inflicted by the corrupt cop who was his ex-girlfriend. Solving the case of Arthur Whitney, a famous American novelist murdered just as he arrived home for a surprise birthday party, should do the trick.

And then there is Kinosian, who plays everybody else, meaning at least nine suspects who range from Whitney’s wife, nephew and ballerina mistress, to the unhappily married Flandons, three inner-city orphans (Timmy, Yonkers and Skid), and the psychiatrist who knows a few too many intimate secrets about almost everybody.

Small, fleet, and with a smartly demonic glint of unpredictable mischief in his eyes, Schmuckler is a galvanic musical theater actor who stole the show recently in The Music Theater Company’s production of “Merrily We Roll Along,” and Drury Lane Oakbrook’s “Sugar.”

Kinosian, a rail-thin Pee wee Herman type, is clearly talented, but the campiness of his playing quickly begins to wear thin. You either like this kind of thing or you don’t.

The Kinosian-Blair score is a deft pastiche. And the rip-roaring, four-hands piano fireworks of the finale is absolutely terrific. It is, indeed, a “killer musical,” and perhaps that alone is a good enough reason to catch it.

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