“Murder Among Friends” begins with a clap of thunder (kudos to sound designer Roger Stoddard) that had me nearly jumping out of my seat Thursday night.
And the surprises just keep coming in this whodunit that’s as much comedy-farce as murder mystery, starring the still-glamorous Morgan Fairchild.
As funny as she is gorgeous, Fairchild is perfectly cast as Angela Forrester, “the 15th-richest woman in America.” She combines a touch of vulnerability and a healthy sense of comedic timing to create a conniving beauty who wants out of a loveless, miserable marriage.
Who can blame her? She’s married to Palmer Forrester, a fading Broadway star, the epitome of the narcissistic actor who thinks he’s another Lawrence Olivier — but isn’t. He’s played to the hilt by John Rensenhouse, a perennial at the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival and managing director for Kansas City Actors Theatre.
Their sophisticated sparring leaves no doubt that the two should go their separate ways by whatever means possible.
Instigating the murder plot is Palmer’s agent, Ted Cotton, portrayed with the right degree of double-timing ambition by Fletcher McTaggart. He’s carrying on a passionate love affair with Angela, as we see in the opening scene.
But who’s planning to murder whom soon becomes a question as this stormy New Year’s Eve (be prepared for more thunder and lightning) progresses.
The trio is joined by Marshall Saidenberg, Palmer’s producer (Victor Raider-Wexler), and wife, Gertrude (Jeannine Hutchings), to ring in the New Year. Raider-Wexler and Hutchings do a fine job of playing off each other to show the familiar comfort of a long-married couple, earning their share of laughs.
Hitman Larry Prosciutto (Sam Wright) interrupts the festivities with a gun and a heavy Puerto Rican accent as the misunderstandings continue. Wright, who’s drop-dead handsome, is making his New Theatre debut.
The second act moves at an almost manic speed as the story twists and turns, sometimes leaving logic behind, to a surprising conclusion.
Scenic designer Jason Coale has created an elegant rendition of a New York City loft apartment with a curving white staircase and sleek white fireplace. Mary Traylor’s costumes are equally elegant in setting the right tone for the production. Marc Bouwer’s red evening gown (an important plot device) designed for Fairchild is stunning.
Randy B. Winder’s effective lighting design does more than create atmosphere as we discover that Palmer Forrester is so vain he’s had stage lights installed in his apartment to put him in a more flattering light.
The show did have a couple of glitches Thursday night (to say anything more spoils the plot) but the actors covered well and the audience didn’t seem to notice or care.
Fairchild graciously thanked the audience for overlooking the mistakes when she spoke briefly after the curtain call. She recalled opening Tiffany’s Attic 42 years ago in a show produced by Dennis D. Hennessy, co-owner of New Theatre, who directs “Murder Among Friends.”
This is light, frothy fare that makes for an enjoyable evening, although some of playwright Bob Barry’s references — to Joan Collins, Mother Theresa and The Three Stooges — feel dated, and no wonder. The original Broadway production ran in the mid-1970s.
Thursday night’s audience, though, was made up of folks who appreciated the jokes.