Hayes Theatre Company’s production of Murder for Two is a non-stop tour de force of compelling comedy and musical talent. The show, adapted from a Chicago-borne production, follows police officer Marcus Moscowicz (Gabbi Bolt) as he tries to uncover the culprit in the murder of a famous novelist. The cast of thirteen suspects is entirely played by talented performer Maverick Newman, who oscillates between a German psychiatrist, a squabbling couple, a scorned housewife, a prima ballerina, and a boys choir to thrilling effect.
Set against a backdrop of a surprise birthday party, the show wastes no time in killing off the birthday boy before cascading through a series of musical numbers that introduce each potential suspect and their oft-goofy motive. Newman injects each performance with enough life force that a simple wave of the hand signals to the audience that he is embodying a new character.
A standout number is “Perfectly Lovely Surprise” which sees the victim’s wife, Dahlia, detailing her life of exaggerated antics while she spars with the frustrated police officer working the investigation. It’s indicative of Murder for Two’s secret sauce: the balance between Newman’s wacky portrayal of whodunnit trope characters and Bolt’s pantomime masculinity. The show is most enjoyable when its two stars break through these characters, winking at the audience as they openly play with the format of their two-person cast.
As impressive as the two-hand performance is, the actors are aided by phenomenal lighting and sound production. Pools of coloured light and well-timed musical stings transform a small set into a carousel of locations and moods while Newman and Bolt spar over a live piano. The pace of the show is bombastic and at times overstimulating, but the performers flex their musicality and acting chops with minimal self-seriousness. When prop handcuffs fall apart on stage, Bolt impromptu comments “budgets these days,” to resounding laughter. Comparatively, Newman is sure to maintain engagement by commanding audience members to stand and clap, gasping in a southern drawl “We shouldn’t have to ask!”.
By the climax of Murder for Two’s 90-minute run, the reveal of the murderer is almost completely redundant to the audience’s experience. A dizzying display of back-to-back jokes around a grand piano means that the show is less winding mystery and more pure, undulating fun.
The great moral lesson evoked in Murder for Two is simple: sometimes it’s just good to laugh.
Murder for Two plays at the Hayes Theatre, Elizabeth Bay, Sydney until 3 September.