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An Interview with MURDER FOR TWO’s Joe Kinosian

How did MURDER FOR TWO come about?

Kind of a roundabout way. I had just met my writing partner Kellen Blair at a BMI workshop on musical theater. This was around 2007. We got to talking, and then we were both hired to work on this big show—a Broadway period piece with all the musical bells and whistles. But we wanted to do something on our own, but we had no representation, no connections or resources. So we decided to write something a little more financially feasible that we could produce ourselves…lower key…something to amuse our friends and ourselves and that we could do at the Duplex Cabaret in the Village, where a lot of us hung out.

Was it just you and Kellen?

The show is written for two actors and a piano…no costumes, no set, no effects…just the two guys and the piano. We wrote it that way so it would be easy and cheap to produce anywhere. But within a year, we had a full-blown production with sets, costumes, and such, thanks to a producer who thought it had potential.

Did it premiere in New York?

No. We had our World Premiere at Chicago Shakespeare Festival in 2011, if you can believe that. That production was supposed to run for five weeks, and wound up running for 7 months. They’d never had a show run that long. It got a lot of press and that pulled interest from New York production people.

So you went back to New York with it.

Yes.  In 2013, the Second Stage Uptown Theater in NY – their upstairs space – it was the first musical they did there. It ran a solid year, then went on the road for two years.  Then it went international – it was a real hoot for Kellen and I to see our show done in Japanese.

Tell me about the show.

I think people think it’s a mystery whodunit, but it is a comedy first and foremost. Audiences should be prepared to see something very funny. It’s a throwback to vaudeville in a way, and certainly the Marx brothers. Kind of like, what if the Marx brothers put on an Agatha Christie play? It has the flavors of both.

Kind of an homage to the early movie comedies?

Kellen and I are movie buffs of that era – we love Preston Sturgis, and Margaret DuMonde…we’re real old movie fans. I went to see the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup” recently. The audience was full of kids with random adults…mostly kids who turn to their iPads for entertainment, and you know what? They were screaming with laughter. They got it, and that proved to me that that kind of comedy is never going to get old. The Groucho Marx sort of disruptiveness can be tracked directly to today’s “The Simpsons” – broad appeal entertainment. Hopefully that’s what MURDER FOR TWO can do at its best.

What’s the musical part of the show like?

So often as a composer, you’re writing on the piano for what will hopefully be an orchestra…it has to represent all the instruments. With this show, no matter what, it was never going to be orchestrated. It was written for two performers and the piano….use the piano in every way to make it sound “piano-y”. And given the 1930’s comedy sensibility, what I was looking at for inspiration was novelty ragtime of the teens, 20s and 30s of last century. Zez Confrey—he wrote “Kitten on the Keys”, and “Nickle in the Slot” – theatrical, funny, and strange ragtime – sort of like the less heartwarming version of Scott Joplin. It’s an inventive way to use a piano.

Well, we’re looking forward to seeing you and the show at the Red Barn.

Thanks. We’re going to have a blast.

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