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JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
Pat Sajak, left, and Joe Moore have been friends for decades, often joining forces in comedy plays. Sajak called “Dial M for Murder” “a nice change of pace.”
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
Joe Moore, left, and Pat Sajak star in “Dial ‘M’ for Murder” with proceeds going to maintaining the historic 96-year old Hawaii Theatre.
Joe Moore and Pat Sajak met during the Vietnam War when they were broadcasters on Armed Forces Radio in Saigon. The friendship that started in wartime Vietnam grew through the years that followed as they enjoyed success in their chosen professions — Moore as Hawaii’s highest-rated television newscaster, Sajak as the genial host of “Wheel of Fortune,” one of America’s most popular television game shows.
That friendship will bring Sajak back to Hawaii this month when he joins Moore on the stage of Hawaii Theatre for a fundraiser production of “Dial M For Murder.” The show opens Thurday. All proceeds go towards the cost of maintaining the historic 96-year old landmark.
Moore stars as Tony Wendice, an English tennis pro now retired, who discovers that his wife, Margot Wendice, has been cheating on him with an American television writer, Max Halliday. Tony puts a plan in motion to have Morgot killed under circumstances that will make it look like a burglary gone wrong, but — Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! — things don’t go as planned.
“DIAL ‘M’ FOR MURDER”
Starring Joe Moore and Pat Sajak
>> Where: Hawaii Theatre, 1130 Bethel St.
>> When: 7 p.m. Thursday; continues at 7 p.m. June 22 and June 23, 2 p.m. June 23 and June 24, 7 p.m. June 27 through June 30 and 2 p.m. June 30 and July 1
>> Cost: $20 to $75
>> Info: 528-0506, hawaiitheatre.com
“I never saw the play, but for some reason I liked the movie a lot,” Sajak said, calling from New York during a conference call that also brought Moore on the line in Hawaii.
“You’re a tech guy at heart,” Moore said to Sajak, who engineered the call, when the connection was secure and it had been established that everyone could hear everyone.
Sajak modestly downplayed his technical skills, saying that he was “rather proud” of himself for actually being able to set up a conference call without cutting someone off. Moore replied that compared to Sajak he was so low-tech “that I still have a black-and-white TV.”
“Joe is absolutely the worst,” Sajak responded good-naturedly. “He’s proud of it.”
“Never had a cell phone. Never had a cell phone. Never gonna get a cell phone,” Moore chanted triumphantly.
The exchange may sound silly, but the camaraderie and sense of mutual admiration between them was unmistakable.
“DIAL M For Murder” was first presented on BBC Television in 1952 and opened on Broadway later that year. Alfred Hitchcock directed the Hollywood film version in 1954.
Sajak likes the play for several reasons.
“It’s as much fun as adultery and murder can be,” he explained.
“Joe and I have done mostly lighter stuff, comedic stuff, and I thought it might be a nice change of pace to do this. Of course that’s easy for me to say, because I wanted Joe to do the part with an English accent. It’s easy for me to have fun with it and now he’s having to work. How are you coming with it, Joe?”
“Oh, quite well,” Moore replied in what most Americans would accept as a British accent. “With a little assistance from David Stern, who is an accent specialist, I’ve been working on it now for about six months. Do I sound French?”
Sajak plays Halliday, with Stacy Ray as Margot Wendice, Nigel Bannister as Captain Lesgate and Timothy Jeffreys as Chief Inspector Hubbard.
The show is the fifth for Moore and Sajak here. Their partnership as stage actors began with “The Odd Couple” in 2001 (Moore was Oscar; Sajak was Felix), after which came a theatrical adaptation of “The Honeymooners” in 2004 (Moore was Ralph Kramden; Sajak was Ed Norton). They reunited again for “The Boys in Autumn” in 2010 (Moore was Huck Finn, Sajak was Tom Sawyer), and for “Wrestling Ernest Hemingway” in 2014.
“THE MAIN reason we do this is because we like working together and being on stage together,” Sajak said. “Every time we do one, I always say, ‘It’s so much work. Maybe that should be it,’ but a couple of years later we miss it and find another one to do.”
Sajak added that “the challenge” for them is getting the audience “past the recognition thing — ‘Oh, it’s Joe’ or ‘Oh, it’s Pat.”’
“I think we’ve been pretty successful at that over the years,” he said. “If we don’t, it seems to me that we’re not successful. If they spend the whole play looking at Joe and Pat (instead of the characters) that’s not a good sign.”
One of the things Moore likes about the show is that it’s “not a whodunnit,” he said.
“The audience knows early on” who did it, Moore said. “The question is: Will the person get caught, and, if so, how? To me, it’s like a ‘Columbo’ set-up.”
For those unfamiliar with the classic television detective shows of the late 20th Century, “Columbo” began by showing the crime being committed. The story was about how the title character, a disheveled and apparently absentminded police detective wearing a rumpled beige raincoat and asking apparently pointless questions, collected the seemingly unimportant bits of information that eventually uncovered the killer.
“The other challenge for Joe, aside from the accent, is he’s playing a pretty despicable guy,” Sajak said. “And yet, if you remember the film, strangely likable.”
Moore’s character, Tony Wendice, is “very clever,” in Sajak’s assessment. “Even if he’s trying to have his wife killed, there’s still something about him that’s rather endearing to everybody involved — including my character, who’s been having an affair with his wife. It’s an interesting challenge for Joe I think.”
Moore added, “I’m sure there will be some people in the audience who will say, ‘She cheated on him, so good for him!’”
THE SHOWS Sajak, 71, and Moore, 70, have done together are part of Moore’s larger body of work as a stage actor. He started with one-man shows that grew out of his admiration for the late Will Rogers — a vaudeville entertainer, film actor, newspaper columnist, humorist, social commentator and real-life cowboy. Moore assembled a couple of one-man shows from Rogers’ newspaper columns on current affairs, then did a one-man show on John Wayne, and then branched out as a writer and actor with full-length plays in subjects ranging from Nazi policies during World War II to the impact of “politics” on the presentation of news by American television news programs.
Moore also wrote and starred in “Prophecy and Honor,” a drama about the courts-martial of General William “Billy” Mitchell in 2007, co-starred with Patty Duke in “Heaven Forbid!” in 2013, and shared the stage with a cast that included Linda Purl and Cathy Foy in the Terrence McNally comedy, “It’s Only a Play,” in 2015.
He has been stretching out since January as the radio host of “Joe Moore’s Good Time Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Saturdays from noon till 4 p.m. on oldies station KKOL, Kool Gold 107.9 FM. Like the late “Uncle Tom” Moffatt before him, Moore plays whatever he wants — anything from the early 1950s to the present, including album tracks that may never have been played on mainstream radio.
Sajak will be joining Moore on KKOL tomorrow. They plan to mix it up even more than Joe usually does on his own.
“I’ve haven’t done radio since the mid-’70s, so it will be fun to go back there,” Sajak said. “Music is a very evocative thing. It will be fun to relive some of the memories — Joe and I share a lot of those memories — and it’ll be fun talking about it and kind of reliving those days.”
“I try to pick out songs that happen to be some of my favorites back in the day,” Moore added. “There are some I know he doesn’t like that I’m going to play — would you believe he likes ‘bubble gum’ (pop)?”
Sajak admitted to liking some of the “bubble gum” hits of the late 1960. He also said he plans to have a couple of songs to play that he knows Moore doesn’t like.
“He has a Johnny Rivers song, ‘Rockin’ Pneumonia,’” Sajak said. “I told him I really like ‘Secret Agent Man’ better.”