The creation of musical theatre is no stranger to lighting in a bottle partnerships; take familiar names like Kander and Ebb or Rodgers and Hammerstein, for example. Murder for Two is all about partnerships. It’s two actors working together to create the physical world of the show. It’s two characters working together to solve a murder. And it’s paralleled in real life through creators Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair who worked together to write the show. “I have definitely found we work better together than apart,” Kinosian said to The Huffington Post of his partnership with Blair. The writing team had not worked together previous to embarking on Murder for Two. They met in 2008 at the BMI Musical Theater Workshop. “It’s like speed dating for musical theatre writers,” Blair joked last year to The Playbill Collector, “They let about 15 lyricists and 15 composers in every year. We got randomly paired to write a “Charm Song” for It’s A Wonderful Life. We did it totally wrong.” They may not have gained a hit song from that first collaboration, but they did find in each other the perfect creative partner. “Joe and I have a similar sense of humor, like the same movies and books and other things. It just seemed like a perfect match from the beginning.”
Like most other musical theatre writers they really wanted to write the next great Broadway musical with hundreds of actors and a thousand piece orchestra, but seeing as how their partnership was beginning in the midst of a recession they decided instead to start with something more economical. “Kellen and I sat down one day to write something fast, funny, and producible — a show that would need nothing more than a piano on a bare stage and two piano-playing actors to play it,” explains Kinosian in The Broadway Blog. The stars aligned when they discovered they both were lovers of murder mysteries and the Marx brothers. There was nothing more interesting and challenging to them as a team than the idea of writing a two man farcical murder mystery musical. So that’s exactly what they did, working together every step of the way. “The book was very collaborative,” Kinosian shared via phone to In New York Magazine. “We handed it back and forth, and back and forth. We’d rewrite drafts and send them back and forth. It’s now at the point where we don’t know who wrote which lines because we both had a hand in all of them.” Creating music for their projects he says is a little different, but no less a partnership. “Together, we discuss and discuss and discuss the idea of what the song is going to accomplish, what it is going to feel like, what information needs to be conveyed through it. But then I’ll definitely step aside, do my music and come up with a draft. We’ll go over it, change what needs to be changed, pick up a note or add one. I’ll say that line isn’t as funny as it might be, and we’ll adjust accordingly. Then we’ll have a reading, and no one will laugh, and we’ll write a new song,” Kinosian joked.
With a successful off-Broadway run completed and a nationwide tour underway for Murder for Two, the pair are happy to remain together creating theatre. These days Kinosian likens his now well established partnership with Blair to a marriage of sorts. “There’s no way to talk about it that doesn’t make it sound like a marriage,” he laughs. “I mean, anything I’m going to say is going to sound like a cliché definition of what makes a successful marriage. You have to compromise. You have to support your partner, and you have to respect your partner. Where writing is concerned, specifically, you have to do what’s best for the play and not push your own agenda.” And anyone who’s been married knows that kind of partnership is not always smooth sailing. “We’ve definitely been tested by things and definitely have had challenges. I think all of that truly has reaffirmed how much we enjoy working together and love each other’s work. We get each other’s sense of humor. We know what we’re trying to do. It’s fun to be the two people in the room, who really understand each other.”