Tuesday, January 25, 2022

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Center Stage

Pinball, vaudeville and murder


Midway through our conversation, Kyle Brantzel started speaking in tongues. First he used a birdlike falsetto, then a gravelly basso, switching off without a hitch.

“Murder for Two” Temple Theater, Des Moines Performing Arts March 10-15. Tues.-Fri. 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 5 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.

“Murder for Two”
Temple Theater, Des Moines Performing Arts
March 10-15. Tues.-Fri. 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 5 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.

“That’s how you’ve got to do it,” he explained, dropping back into his natural voice (with a hint of a Chicago accent). “After all, you’re 50 percent of the show.”

In fact, Brantzel might be more like 80 percent of “Murder for Two,” the whiz-bang of a musical comedy opening downtown this week. He remains a bit foggy on the number of characters he portrays — 10 or 12, he says. They all deserve suspicion, too, for the crime in the title. From the ballerina to the psychiatrist, they all have good reason for offing a certain best-selling novelist. But while Brentzel plays the many suspects, with their different voices and props, the other lone actor onstage, Ian Lowe, has a single part: Detective Marcus Moscowicz.

“It’s straight man versus funny man,” Brantzel explains. “This was a conscious effort by the writers. They wanted vaudeville, the Marx Brothers.”


So the jokes run the gamut.

“There’s both slapstick, sheer physical humor and really clever verbal wit,” Brantzel said.

The suspects bounce off the detective as if in a pinball machine.

“He’s fixed, and yet there are always surprises,” Brantzel says of his costar. “It’s fun to see what he gives back, like an element of improv.”

Ian Lowe and Kyle Branzel in MURDER FOR TWO 2 (Photo by Jim Cox)

Ian Lowe and Kyle Branzel in Murder for Two
Photo by Jim Cox

Like all winning vaudeville, “Murder” comes with music. Each new twist has a theme song, yet there’s only a single piano onstage. Brantzel and Lowe swap off, singing solo, together, one behind the other.

“Really, we use that thing in every combination imaginable,” said Brantzel.

Their fingers fly so fast, he adds, that once or twice on this tour, audience members have thought they were listening to an off-stage recording.

“Afterwards, they’ve come up and asked: ‘You guys weren’t really playing, were you?’ ” he tells me.

A prerecorded soundtrack, however, requires extra technology and personnel. “Murder for Two” travels light. After killing it Off-Broadway (so to speak), the show went on tour last year with little more than a van full of props. It has a crew of one, a stage manager who works with local people to ensure the pinpoint timing needed for lights and sounds. As for the cast, when “Murder” left New York, the man playing all the suspects was actually one of the writers, Joe Kinosian.

“I was Kinosian’s understudy,“ Brantzel reveals. “And, I mean, talk about a master class.”

Brantzel, a Midwesterner, studied in Chicago, where he first fell in love with “Murder for Two.” Later in New York, he hung in through eight months of auditions, showing the same energy that now has him “huffing and puffing like an athlete” at some point during every show.

Huffing, puffing and speaking in voices.


Overheard in the Lobby: A tentative date of Aug. 30 has been set for the first Cloris Awards ceremony recognizing excellence in Des Moines theater. CV


John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.

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