Protocol Says! Jeff Blumenkrantz and Brett Ryback Act as Suspects, Detective and Accompanists in Murder for Two

By Michael Gioia
21 Nov 2013

Brett Ryback
Photo by Joan Marcus
Before developing an obvious on-and-offstage chemistry, Blumenkrantz and Ryback were put through a demanding audition process. "I know Joe and Kellen from the BMI [Lehman Engel Musical Theatre] Workshop, [so] I knew about this project," said Blumenkrantz. "I heard songs from it over the years, [but after] I had that first audition, I was mortified. I just thought, 'That was an embarrassment. I wish I could erase that from the world's experience.' And, I remember going to Macy's afterwards just to try and shed…"

Ryback interrupted: "Retail therapy?"

"Yes!" responded Blumenkrantz, who was asked to audition with distinct and different choices for the handful of characters he would play in Murder for Two (the Southern Dahlia, husband-and-wife duo Murray and Barb, eccentric dancer Barrette, teenager Steph and a gang of children, among others). "I [thought], 'How can I wash this awful audition off me?' By buying something! And, then my agent said, 'You got a callback.' I thought, 'No, I'm sorry. That does not compute.'"

The process was similar for Ryback. "The [creative team] gave me all this material," he explained. "It was some of the scenes, stuff that I had to play for the other character, and there was stuff that I had to play and sing myself… They were [checking] off all the boxes. The trickiest thing for me was to act in a scene and play music that was somehow counter to what was happening. I had never had to split my brain quite that way before, and now I feel like it's so effortless."

Blumenkrantz clarified: "Playing and singing at the same time is sort of effortless, but talking — like, dialogue — and playing the piano, or playing the piano and trying to have a conversation… It's a totally divided-brain situation, and it still kicks my ass."

Jeff Blumenkrantz and Brett Ryback
photo by Joan Marcus

In order to digest the massive amount of material performed in Murder for Two, Blumenkrantz and Ryback were often given time off from rehearsal to complete their "homework assignments," or small chunks of the score to memorize for their next meeting, to work through music on their own. The duo also took time in between the summer uptown engagement and the New World Stages run to have a "phone-through," in which Blumenkrantz and Ryback — who splits time between New York and Los Angeles — revisited the material over the phone.

"Now we're back in it, but when we first started [rehearsals for the New World Stages run], it was scary," said Ryback. "If you just closed your eyes and trusted your muscles, you kind of knew where to go, but the minute you thought about what was supposed to happen next, your brain just lost it. You had to rely on muscle memory."

The two continue at New World Stages through March 16, 2014, and although stamina proves to be the biggest challenge, Blumenkrantz admitted that the show is the "fastest 90 minutes" of his day. Ryback agreed.

"It's playfulness and trust. It's give and take," said the show's detective. "It's just the two of us, so if one person is giving something, the other person has to take it and run with it. Honestly, that element, and the element of the audience — when it's a good audience — is the reason why I can't get enough of this show. It's literally, '1, 2, 3… Go play!'"

( staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)