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MURDER FOR TWO, the latest production coming to Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma’s Plaza Theatre, puts laughter in manslaughter. In this new musical making its regional premiere here in Oklahoma City, one actor plays the detective, one actor plays all the suspects, and they both play the piano. As the show rapidly approaches its opening night on March 25, we’re kicking off #MurderousMondays- a weekly opportunity for you to peek behind the curtain at this hilarious blend of a murder mystery and musical comedy.

Ian Lowe and Joe Kinosian. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Today, we get a privilege we don’t often have- we got to interview the writers of MURDER FOR TWO. Joe Kinosian (Book and Music) and Kellen Blair (Book and Lyrics) were kind enough to answer some of our questions about the show- meet these funny guys below!

Lyric: How did you develop the idea for MURDER FOR TWO?

Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair: We started writing MURDER FOR TWO at a time when we had no significant credits or reputation to speak of. Rather than putting together a song cycle or concert experience, we wanted to write a full, traditional book musical with no requirements beyond two actors and a piano-something fast, funny, and easily producible. We came up with the idea of a comic murder mystery, in the vein of THE THIN MAN, but with one actor playing the investigator and the other playing all the suspects he was interrogating, and who subsequently distract him from his detective work. In shorthand, we wanted to create a farcical new musical that functioned like the Marx Brothers performing an Agatha Christie story.

Ian Lowe and Joe Kinosian. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Lyric: How did you become writing partners? Is this your first musical together?

JK & KB: We met at the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop, a wonderful program that emphasizes the importance and evolution of craft and has given rise to lots and lots of eproud to present the xciting new writers and musicals over the years (NEXT TO NORMAL, AVENUE Q, A CHORUS LINE, etc., etc.). This is our first larger-scale musical to receive a production, aside from our contribution to a delightful children’s revue called DUCK FOR PRESIDENT.

Lyric: What is your writing process like?

JK & KB: Lots of lively conversations and “what if”-ing leads to a story outline, which leads to a draft of the story in prose form, broken into individual scenes, and incorporating song ideas and pieces of dialogue. From there we take turns drafting the individual scenes, then pour over those together: the bookwriting aspect is 100% collaborative. As for the songs, we discuss the structure and title/hook, then rattle off what needs to be accomplished by the musical moment, at which point Joe drafts the music with “la la la’s” in place of the lyrics. Kellen takes the reins then, and we hand it back and forth until we’re satisfied with what we’ve got, or past a deadline.

Lyric: Joe, you’ve performed as The Suspects in a few of the stops on the MURDER FOR TWO tour. What is it like to perform in a musical that you wrote the book and music for? Is it easier, or harder, for you as a performer than other roles you’ve taken on? Why?

Joe Kinosian: Of course the role is very physically and vocally demanding, and requires a great deal of focus, but it’s also an absolute blast and I hope there are more opportunities down the line for me to do it again. It’s easier in the sense that I know what justification the writers have for doing all the weirdo things they’ve done, but it’s harder in the sense that I have lots and lots of past drafts in my head, and I have to remember which lines we’ve settled on and where all the cuts currently are.

Ian Lowe and Joe Kinosian. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Lyric: MURDER FOR TWO has had a successful off-Broadway run, and is now enjoying a wonderful national tour. Why do you think this new musical, in particular, was so successful?

JK & KB: It’s so hard to determine what makes a success and what doesn’t. The only thing we can say is that we’ve enjoyed seeing how many age ranges have responded to the show for different reasons: the grandparents enjoy the Agatha Christie and old movie references, as well as the nods to classic variety shows and vaudeville, the 20-40 year-olds enjoy the irreverent “The Simpsons” or “Family Guy”-style humor/comedic surrealism, and the kids enjoy watching people fall down and say a few naughty words. Since we started this show as an attempt to amuse mainly ourselves, perhaps that’s the lesson-keep writing for yourselves, in the effort to be as universal as possible.

Thank you, Joe and Kellen, for your time and insights- we can’t wait to see the show on stage!