THE BASICS: MURDER FOR TWO, a murder mystery musical by Kellen Blair and Joe Kinosian, directed by Doug Weyand, starring Philip Farugia and Joseph Donohue III runs through August 12, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at both 3:30 & 7:30, and Sundays at 2 at MusicalFare Theatre, 4380 Main Street, Amherst on the Daemen College campus (hint: enter off Getzville Road) (839-8540). www.musicalfare.comBeautifully appointed lounge area. Runtime: 1 hour 45 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Officer Marcus Moscowicz (Phil Farugia) is a beat cop with unlikely dreams of making it to detective. When shots ring out at the surprise birthday party of “Great American Crime Novelist” Arthur Whitney and the writer is killed, with the nearest “real” detective an hour away, Moscowicz jumps at the chance to prove his sleuthing skills and hopefully be rewarded with a promotion. But it’s a classic whodunit. There are many, many suspects, all played by one actor – Joseph Donahue III. Was it Dahlia Whitney, Arthur’s wife? Barrette Lewis, the prima ballerina, or perhaps Dr. Griff, the psychiatrist who was treating just about everyone involved (including Officer Moscowicz!). Taking turns at the piano, Farugia and Donohue accompany each other’s songs, sometimes singing duets, and sometimes playing dazzling piano-four-hands (an overhead view of which is projected on the wall behind the piano). There are props and sight gags and plenty of self-aware jokes (which I won’t spoil here) and once it gets going it’s non-stop mayhem.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: There is such a definite difference between the rather plodding Act I and then the hilarious Act II of MURDER FOR TWO that I thought the two acts were by different playwrights. And, yes, I know that in almost every play, even the great ones, Act I must do the heavy lifting – introducing the characters, establishing motivations, setting the scene, and commencing the action. By definition it’s the set-up and not the payoff. It’s like sweating over a hot stove before sitting down to your dinner party, it’s like jogging for miles so you can PR the Turkey Trot, it’s like the tick-tick-tick of the roller coaster as you slowly ascend at the start. And with MURDER FOR TWO it was like the tick-tick-tick of my watch as I wondered when this damn play was going to get funny.
Wonder no more. It’s all (and I mean ALL) in Act II. Suddenly the music gets more melodic as the rhymes in the songs get clever (“We’ll be BFFs forever/ That’s redundant but… whatever”) as Joseph Donahue erupts in frenetic comic insanity. If you ever enjoyed watching Robin Williams become an infinite variety of personas in his comedy shows, if you enjoyed watching Brian Mysliwy play 40 characters a few seasons ago in FULLY COMMITTED, hell, if you enjoyed Donahue himself as wild-man “Jerry Lee Lewis” in MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET (which will be reprised, by the way, at Shea’s 710 Theatre in March, 2019) then you will love the actor seamlessly becoming one “suspect” after another, sometimes seconds apart.
The other joy of watching Donahue is simply his organic connection with the piano which seems to be an extension of his body.
And the other joy of watching Donahue is simply his organic connection with the piano which seems to be an extension of his body. Farugia is no slouch, mind you, and is one of the most respected musical directors in Buffalo, but Donahue is something special that comes along only once in a while. Or, as one grandmotherly patron said to another on the way out “Isn’t he adorable?”
Yes, he is.
UP NEXT: PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES, a country, blues, and rockabilly musical directed by the incomparable Chris Kelly runs at MusicalFare from September 5 through October 7, 2018.
Between now and then there is also a series of cabarets featuring various popular stars of MusicalFare, too many to list, so visit www.musicalfare.com for information.
Images courtesy MusicalFare Theatre
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!