In January I attended an Off-Broadway Alliance panel discussion. Kellen Blair, who wrote the lyrics and book for MURDER FOR TWO, was on the panel. After hearing him talk about the process of his new musical that he wrote with Joe Kinosian, I decided to check it out at New World Stages. The show was clever, funny and exciting. After tweeting my review out, Kellen responded and I asked if he would be open to doing an interview. We met and chatted for over an hour. If I had not had a show to go to, I believe we could have talked for days!
The Playbill Collector (TPC): I’m from San Diego and heard you went to college out in California. Where did you go and what was your degree in?
Kellen Blair (KB): Chapman University and got a BFA in Film Production. I wanted to be a writer and director for film.
TPC: How did you make the transition to writing musicals?
KB: My senior year, I made a short film musical and loved it. After living in Los Angeles for a while and realizing film was not my passion anymore, I applied for BMI and moved to New York City.
KB: The BMI Musical Theater workshop in 2008.
TPC: Did they pair you up together?
KB: It’s like speed dating for musical theater writers. They let about 15 lyricists and 15 composers in every year. We got randomly paired to write a “Charm Song” for ITS A WONDERFUL LIFE. We did it totally wrong. It was a good song but apparently it had too much tension it in. We met, enjoyed writing together and both learned quickly how it is when you find a good collaborator. At first you think it’s great to meet someone who is nice and talented but there are many little things you don’t take into account right away that can really make or break a collaboration. 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.
TPC: How did you decide to create MURDER FOR TWO?
KB: We asked ourselves “what do we have that might give us an edge?” And the answer, frankly, was Joe. He’s an amazing piano-playing-singer-actor and we knew we could use that to our advantage. Since we had Joe there from the very beginning, we were able to show producers exactly what the show was going to be from the first reading. We knew that was a large asset. We thought about what we both liked which was Agatha Christie and The Marx Brothers. The way that they incorporated music to their comedy was exciting. The structure of a murder mystery seemed great for a first show because we knew the detective would have to interview the different suspects, which gave us a pretty straightforward outline from the very beginning.
TPC: When my friend and I walked out of your show we asked each other “how did they audition this show?” since both parts played the piano, acted and sang.
KB: It was very difficult! For the first few weeks we did only piano auditions. Joe would stand over people as they played to see if they could handle it.
TPC: Where did you open the show in New York?
KB: Second Stage Uptown and then we transferred to New World Stages where we are currently playing until July 6th (although we’re knocking on wood that it will keep getting extended).
TPC: Are you working on a new project now?
KB: Yes, we have an idea that I believe is a great next step for us. It’s farcical like MURDER FOR TWO but we delve deeper into the characters and it has a full cast and orchestra. We didn’t want to get trapped into writing only gimmicky two person shows so we’re trying to expand our horizons. We’re always working on a thriller that isn’t a comedy at all — we’ll see how that goes!
TPC: Who is a big influence for you theater wise?
KB: Joe and I are inspired by traditional writers. Frank Loesser and his show HOW TO SUCCEED is one of my favorites. The fact that he could be ridiculously funny and craftful at the same time is amazing.
TPC: When people come visit NYC, what show do you tell them to see?
KB: THE BOOK OF MORMON. It’s hilarious and one of the only shows I think is actually worth a full price ticket. Every few years a show comes to Broadway where you think “this is what it’s all about.”
TPC: What is your favorite type of show?
KB: Fun and frothy all the way through and then at the end you are caught off guard by how much you care. Joe and I strive to do shows like that.
For more information on Kellen and Joe check out: http://www.kinosianandblair.com/
For tickets to MURDER FOR TWO: www.murderfortwomusical.com