Maybe you don’t envision seasonal cheer when you hear “Murder for Two: Holiday Edition,” the title of the current production at Cape May Stage through Sunday, December 29. But, trust me on this, it’s plenty merry!
The setting is a party on Christmas Eve. Officer Marcus Moscowicz, a small-town cop with big dreams of becoming detective, is at the scene when a notable guest is fatally shot and, with no seasoned investigator nearby, Moscowicz seizes the opportunity to demonstrate his sleuthing skills and attempt to discover the killer’s identity.
Here’s where the story swings wildly from a run-of-the-mill murder mystery to a completely madcap musical. The play features only two actors – one who plays Moscowicz and another who portrays all 13 suspects. And there’s only one possible weapon – the piano!
Doesn’t it sound like fun?
“It’s hilarious,” said Denise Shutter, Marketing Director at Cape May Stage. “This is a holiday version that was done by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, the original playwrights.”
“It’s one of the funniest shows we’ve ever done at Cape May Stage.”
The Cape May Stage production features two actors, Trace Pool and Martin Landry, who both have extensive experience with this play.
“We’re really lucky to have Martin and Trace,” Shutter said. “They came in with guns blazing!”
In his bio, Pool said he’s delighted to reprise the part of Marcus Moscowicz in Cape May, and noted that his 100th performance of “Murder for Two” will happen during this run (this is also the first time he’s doing the holiday version).
Interestingly, the play came to him almost by accident.
“I don’t believe in fate, but this show kept finding me,” Pool said, “In my first New York City apartment, my roommate, who I didn’t know, had a ‘Murder for Two’ poster on her wall that someone before had left. Four months later, I met Martin Landry in Pennsylvania while doing a different show, and he told me he’d done the national tour for ‘Murder for Two.’”
“And a year after that, a theatre I worked at in Texas announced they were mounting a production of the play,” he said. “I knew I needed to be part of it.”
“Now I’m doing it with Martin (Landry),” he said.
Landry, who joined the national tour in 2015 and has appeared as or been a standby for both characters at 11 different theaters in 10 states, said his involvement is anything but accidental.
“I’ve been friends with the writers for a while and have been a fan of the show from its earliest days,” he said. “I badgered them relentlessly about doing it and finally they gave in. I’ve been involved off and on with the show for almost five years.”
It’s clear from talking with the actors about the show that both are huge fans.
“The script is sharp and hysterical, and the lyrics are razor-sharp,” Pool said. “It’s a tour de force, and the audience is watching us try to pull it off.”
“It’s extremely well-crafted nonsense.”
Landry agrees. “After all this time, the script and songs are still hilarious to me,” he said, “and I love sharing that with the audience.”
In the Cape May Stage production, Landry plays The Suspects and said he loves switching characters and getting to say and do outrageous things. But he also enjoys playing Marcus and being responsible for pushing the story forward.
“As much fun as it is to be The Suspects, it is really Marcus’s story,” he said. “That's who the audience is invested in.”
“And both characters have piano challenges,” Landry added. “I never grow tired of attempting piano perfection.”
Because he’s played just the one role, Pool’s perspective is different. “I have a soft spot for Marcus,” he said. “He is the audience’s eyes into the show.”
“The play doesn’t work if we don’t care about Marcus achieving his goals,” he said. “I’m always rooting for him.”
Even though it is a two-person show, both actors said that keeping it fresh is never an issue.
“Every performance is unique,” Pool said. “The audience is essentially the third actor. Each audience creates a different dynamic. And while the lines or staging don’t change, I am constantly surprised by what happens in the room.”
As part of the touring company, Landry has done this show in a variety of venues and locations, and I asked him if he’s noticed differences.
“Not really,” he said. “People love to laugh. That stays pretty consistent no matter where you are.”
“Because this is my first time performing in the Holiday Edition (and only the second time this version has been done), it’s truly a fresh experience,” Landry said. “Believe it or not, I STILL find new things to explore about each character after all this time.”
Apparently, the actors’ enthusiasm is contagious. Shutter told me that tickets are selling very well and that select shows have been nearly sold out.
“Of course, summer is our busiest time,” she said, “but we are definitely seeing good numbers for this show.”
“This is our 31st year,” Shutter said, “and we celebrated with a big season – five mainstage productions and a series of one-night-only shows featuring Broadway-caliber entertainment.”
“The series is great. Cape May Stage is an intimate venue (just 128 seats), so the audience is close to the stage,” she said. “And there is a meet-and-greet with the performers. It’s a really nice night.”
Each season, the mainstage productions focus on a theme selected by Artistic Director Roy Steinberg. “Next year’s theme is marriage,” she said. “The shows will be about relationships and love and the ways people communicate with each other.”
“We try to span everyone’s interests.”
Cape May Stage has also established a strong relationship with many of the actors who have appeared there.
“We love that the actors want to come back to us,” Shutter said. “I think that speaks to the quality of our productions.”
Shutter also believes that the continuing popularity and success enjoyed by Cape May Stage can be attributed to its ability to grow and change with the times.
“We can remember our history and also look forward to the future.”
“Murder for Two: The Holiday Edition” thru December 29, 2019 at Cape May Stage - Robert Shackleton Playhouse, 405 Lafayette Street, Cape May, NJ 08204.