The Buffalo News (Gusto) - July 13, 2018 - by Melinda Miller
MusicalFare kills it with the hilarious 'Murder for Two'
The popularity of “Murder for Two” doesn’t really hinge on the murder. With this show, it’s all about the execution.
That is, how well can a theater company pull off the manic antics of Kellen Blair and Joe Kinosian’s smart musical homage that marries “Masterpiece Mystery” to the Marx Brothers?
Well, in its summer production, MusicalFare kills it.
The show requires two actors with excellent comic chops, serious proficiency on the piano, decent singing voices, mutual chemistry and substantial stamina. MusicalFare found them in Philip Farugia and Joseph Donohue III.
Farugia portrays lovelorn police officer Marcus Moscowicz, passing himself off as a detective when he responds to a report of a murder at a creaky New England mansion.
Donohue plays everybody else, aka “the Suspects.” He channels Robin Williams as Southern belle Dahlia Whitney, and mines other comic accents (Hello, Billy Crystal! Hey, Fran Drescher!) for the guests whom Dahlia has invited to a surprise party for her husband, famous novelist Arthur Whitney.
Sadly, we never get to meet Arthur, who appears only as a projected chalk outline on the stage boards. That’s because he’s shot as soon as he arrives at his party,
Only later do we learn that Arthur was writing a tell-all book called “All Them Bananas,” which threatened to reveal the secrets of way too many people, including those at the party.
Marcus, desperate to find the killer before the real detective shows up, dashes between interrogations and the piano keyboard, singing of his ambition, heartache and limited crime fighting skills in delightfully cornball lyrics.
He doesn’t miss a beat as Donohue masterfully switches and swooshes among his menagerie of characters so smoothly that you totally forget to notice that even the women and boys all have a beard.
Unlike the players in MusicalFare’s recent run of “Baskerville” at 710 Main, these characters manifest themselves with barely any change in costume, other than a child’s cap. It’s all in the posing, the posture and the performance, and it’s perfect.
No one who saw Donohue as Jerry Lee Lewis in “Million Dollar Quartet” will be surprised that he also is a killer on the keyboard, alone and in tandem with Farugia, when the two bang out some wickedly funny duets.
Under the direction of Doug Weyand and Theresa Quinn, it all comes together in a triumph of absurdity.
It’s a nice lighthearted show for summertime. No effort is need to enjoy the gallows humor and broad physical gags, and a running joke about a cell phone going off in the audience – which was, intentionally or not, bolstered by a cell phone actually going off in the audience.
There’s just enough plot to appreciate the accusations, the confessions, the poisoning, the denials, another shooting and, finally, the figurative if not literal unmasking of the killer.
And the motive? I’m not sure if there was one, but for the audience, frankly, it was all just for fun.
★ ★ ★ ★ (out of 4)
Buffalo Rising - July 13, 2018 - by Peter Hall
MURDER FOR TWO at MusicalFare is a roller coaster ride with great comic timing.
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.com. Beautifully appointed lounge area. Runtime: 1 hour 45 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Officer Marcus Moscowicz (Philip 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 Donohue 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 Donohue 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 Donohue 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.
And the other joy of watching Donohue 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 Donohue 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.
Buffalo Theatre Guide - July 13, 2018 - by Mary Best
Summer theater faces a unique challenge, in my opinion. Our summers are so short that if the show isn’t outside, regardless of its subject, there’s not a lot of motivation to skip out on a summer afternoon or evening to sit in a dark theater. However, if my budget was limitless, I’d spend every night at MusicalFare’s side-splitting “Murder for Two."
MusicalFare’s production, directed and choreographed by Doug Weyand, is a two man show following the aftermath of a murder at a notorious author’s birthday party. A loveable Philip Farugia plays the wannabe detective investigating the murder and the wildly talented Joseph Donohue III portrays, well, everyone else. On top of that, Farugia and Donohue take turns accompanying each other on the piano, sometimes resulting in four hands crowding the keys.
Despite many characters and very few actors, the show is incredibly easy to follow. Donohue handles the switches between characters with ease and doesn’t mix up any of their voices, body stances or mannerisms. In addition to it being impressive, it’s also hilarious. The crowd couldn’t stop laughing for the nearly two hour show, soaking in Farugia and Donohue’s excellent comedic choices.
Farugia is a great match for Donohue’s ever-changing characters, never missing a beat. He’s loveable, relatable and an all-around delight, especially when tickling the ivory keys. Farugia also works well with the audience, especially when one member is asked to come onstage when they run out of actors.
There was one moment in particular where the audience especially appreciated the duo, and that was when they handled the unfortunately common issue of a cell phone going off during the show. The scene was moving right along but it became clear that the audience was distracted. Thanks to an earlier gag in the show, Donohue was able to seamlessly add an extra comedic moment, without dropping character, and berate the audience member for having their phone on. Immediately the tension dissented, the phone was shut off and the duo received applause and a couple cheers before continuing on with the performance.
Bravo to MusicalFare on an amazing end to their season. “Murder for Two” is unforgettably hysterical. Add this to your summer bucket list!
Running Time: Approximately two hours including a fifteen minute intermission
“Murder for Two” runs through August 12 at MusicalFare Theatre in Amherst.