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A Whodunit That’ll Knock Em Dead

A melodic murder mystery isn’t exactly a new form of entertainment. Other shows like “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” “Something’s Afoot” and “Curtains” have already transformed the genre into the realm of musical theatre, taking the thriller to a whole new level. But in the Marriott Theatre’s current zany Summer production, which had its Jeff Award-winning premiere right here at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, just a few years ago, we get a truly wacky whodunit that’s a somewhat unusual offering for this suburban theatre, known for its large-cast shows with fully orchestrated scores.

Featuring a book and lyrics, cowritten by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, this two-handed musical mystery stars one talented actor, who not only plays the murder victim, but also all nine of the suspects; and the other gifted Thespian who portrays Officer Marcus, the interrogating policeman who wants, more than anything, to be promoted to detective. The result is a madcap, manic Marx Brothers-inspired whirlwind of a show that leaves the audience laughing and breathless.

Even before the actual play begins, its two stars rush onto Scott Davis’ tchotchke-laden stage, rearranging the setting and entertaining the audience with various tricks and vaudevillian schtick. In a wild display of prop placement and juggling, the two men quickly establish the frantic pace what will keep this show in constant motion. Amidst thunder and lightning, the actual play opens in the drawing room of a Victorian mansion. A surprise birthday party turns into a real surprise when the birthday boy is murdered, especially ironic considering that the man’s a prolific local writer of mystery novels. The victim and the nine suspects, all played with deranged glee by Jason Grimm, soon populate the drawing room, while Officer Marcus Moscowicz, portrayed with puckish delight by Noel Carey, questions them all. A baby grand piano dominates the stage, upon which the actor/musicians accompany themselves and each another, both together and in tandem. Performers, props and costume pieces fly about the stage at breakneck speed, and the witty score is, if not memorable, certainly unforgettably executed.

Skillfully staged by Scott Weinstein, with musical direction by Matt Deitchman, the duo offer a nod to English Music Hall entertainments. Both Grimm and Carey pull out all the stops, demonstrating the theatrical skills that make them a pair of topnotch, multitalented performers. Jason Grimm and Noel Carey each stand out individually, while working together perfectly to complement each other’s artistry, energy and flair. These actors are, indeed, comic and musical geniuses.

...There can be no doubt... that area audiences seeking a fast-paced, hilarious, 90-minute musical entertainment for the Summer won’t be disappointed. This exciting and inventive show is sure to knock ‘em dead.