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Jeff Blumenkrantz and The Art of Playing 13 Characters in the Hit Show Murder for Two

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It's hard enough playing one suspect in a murder mystery musical. Imagine playing all 13 suspects -- while never leaving the stage? In the hit whodunit comedy, Murder for Two, that's exactly what Jeff Blumenkrantz flawlessly does.

In this hilarious roller coaster ride romp, playing Off Broadway at New York's New World Stages, Blumenkrantz morphs from damsel dame to a young dude and more without any makeup or major costume changes. (Oh, and Blumenkrantz is also a Tony-nominated composer whose vast repertoire of songs have been recorded and performed by Audra McDonald, Victoria Clark, Megan Mullally and Sutton Foster.) I talked to the multi-talented, multi-tasking Blumenkrantz.

Q: So what went though your mind when you learned that you would have to become all those different characters in Murder for Two?

Jeff Blumenkrantz: There were a couple of stages of consciousness. The first stage was when I saw the audition packet and thought, oh my God. I couldn't even comprehend what this was going to look like or how it was going to get accomplished. My first instinct was, don't bother. Too hard. Can't envision it.

Then I thought the show is really funny and charming. It celebrates theater and specifically musical theater, which I love. The next level of consciousness was on the first day of rehearsal after I got the part. I said to myself, what was I thinking? This is never going to get done. It just seemed like a Mount Everest that was unclimbable.  {Co-star} Brett Ryback and I are on stage for 93 minutes, by ourselves. We're not just performing. We're accompanying the production musically. We had to learn the piano for the whole show. Then there was the layer of playing all these parts simultaneously --  in a way that we don't usually see people play multiple parts. I've been in shows where I've played multiple parts where I leave the stage,change my costume and come back as a new person. But in this show I'm having conversations between different people {which are all me}. 

Q: So what's the secret to playing so many different people?

Jeff Blumenkrantz: The first thing I had to do was establish characters that were different enough from each other in some way that you could identify them quickly. The next step was a coordination trick -- practicing switching characters. Whether it was physical or vocal or just spitting out the lines fast enough and making the changes sharply and cleanly so that people would not be confused.

Q: How long it take to develop all those people who you play?

Jeff Blumenkrantz: Here are two incongruous answers. I had to portray almost all of the characters in my audition. So I came up with most of them then. The germ of every character was born over a year ago preparing for that. The opposite answer is they're all still in development. Every day I discover something new about each character. The more time I spend with them, the richer they become.

Q: I imagine it's hard to pick one or two, but which characters are your favorites?

Jeff Blumenkrantz: I love them all. But I do love playing Steph and Dahlia. Dahlia gets to be really naughty. She does whatever is in her head and she behaves badly. Dahlia is the lady of the house and her husband has been murdered at the top of the show. She's definitely from the South, is a lady of a certain age and is quite ambivalent of the whole death thing. She has much greater concerns at the moment. They have to do with getting to sing her song and also being the center of attention.

Steph is an ingénue and when am I ever going to get to play the ingénue again? I barely got to play male ingénues when I was 20 years younger. So now getting to play a young woman, the love interest, is a unique and unexpected treat. Also, Steph is Dahlia's niece and a fledgling criminologist so she's very excited at the opportunity to help the detective solve the crime. The show is really like less a murder mystery and more a show about 13 people who really want to be the center of attention.

Q: Why do you think you your co-star, Brett Ryback, have great chemistry on stage?

Jeff Blumenkrantz: It was basically artistic love at first sight between Brett and I. We discovered quickly that we had a similar aesthetic how we like our theater. We also jive really well with the director {Scott Schwartz} and love doing the show together. And we're both more concerned with honoring the characters and situation than going for a cheap, easy laugh. The real pitfall of a show like this is putting the laughs first and we've never done that. Of course, we want to get as many laughs as possible but never at the expense of the story or the character.

For more information visit, www.murderfortwomusical.com

Jeff Blumenkrantz (left) and Brett Ryback
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All photos used with permission. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.