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“MURDER AMONG FRIENDS” at Newport Theater Arts Center

A classic whodunit mystery

By Libby Nicolay

Meet Angela. She is a famed mid-century Broadway star and the fifteenth richest woman in the world, no less. Angela’s husband is self-obsessed actor Palmer Forrester. Lovely, except Angela is in love with Palmer’s agent, Ted. It is New Year’s Eve and Angela and Ted have devised a plan to murder Palmer so they can marry and finally be together. The plan would be ingenious, of course, except little does Angela know that these two men are both a few steps ahead of her game. They are lovers too, in fact, and they have their own delicious plan to kill Angela first. One thing is certain: at least one person will be dead. But who? And who did it?

This comedy-thriller, Murder Among Friends, set in an imposing Manhattan apartment on New Years Eve 1982, features a kooky cast of New York City elites as they foil, blackmail, and cheat one another through a spiraling evening of eventual murder and scandal. Written by Bob Barry, the play had a brief stint on Broadway back in 1975 starring Jack Cassidy and Janet Leigh.

‘Murder’ is a slow-burn type of thriller, full of seduction, greed, “peppered with comedy” and plenty of witty remarks about working in theatre - as this haughty group of big-time producers and actors would know. Angela and Ted are aided in their absurdity by Italian actor and dedicated hitman Larry Proscuitto, whose plan is to stage a break-in to pull focus from the murder. But the couple’s schemes are complicated even further by the arrival of their dinner guests, showbiz couple Marshall and Gert, who soon find themselves in the middle of a murderous plan that has no intention of defusing.

Andrew Kelley, one of the cast members, is also a producer on the project at NTAC. Kelley mentioned four of the six-person cast are veteran local actors who Orange County theatregoers may recognize from other shows. The cast will also include three of Newport Theater Arts Center’s board members - a rare twist that we don’t usually see, but one that has suddenly given a group of longtime friends and colleagues the opportunity to play together onstage.

The cast’s camaraderie has allowed their rehearsal process a sense of ease and trust right from the start. Kelley, who himself hasn’t been on stage since 2015, spoke at length about the opportunity to perform with an ensemble who know each other so well, including his wife Lori Kelley, who will play Angela.

“When you work with someone before and you've known someone before for so long, you kind of know their tendencies, and it's fun because you can play off that person,” he explains. “There's an automatic trust there that you know their inflections, you know their movements. It's really neat.” In a show with such fast-paced and funny scenes, trust between an ensemble is key.

As for the show’s visual design elements, Kelley eagerly mentioned Jim Huffman, the show’s “phenomenal” set designer who Kelley says is “going all out” in putting together Angela and Palmer’s extravagant New York apartment. The 1980s setting also leaves plenty of creative potential for other elements like costumes, hair, and makeup. “Think ‘Dynasty,’” Kelley says, referring to the fashion in the 1980s American soap opera. “Big hair, big costumes.” The rest of the details, Kelley says, he will leave a mystery.

Though ‘Murder’ isn’t a play we see produced very often anymore, it has a special relationship to Newport Theater Arts Center. The company previously staged the play back during its 1986 season and has kept it in its repertoire ever since. In fact, Mitchell Nunn, who will direct this production and whose work in Orange County theatre has spanned forty years, was a member of the original 1986 cast. Needless to say, this cast and creative team is excited to revisit the killer tale in the same venue over three decades later.

Murder Among Friends will be perfect for a fun evening of head-spinning drama and razor-sharp wit. This colorful group of characters and their deadly turn of events are certain to bring on the melodrama while leaving audiences chuckling in their seats. Kelley, describing the show, says, “It’s just fun.” Expect a fun time!

Libby Nicolay is a writer, literary manager, and local theater enthusiast working in the entertainment industry throughout Orange County.

‘Murder Among Friends’

Newport Theater Arts Center

2501 Cliff Drive, Newport Beach

January 27 - February 19, 2023

(949) 631-0288,

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