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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

No Way to Treat a Lady
Village Theatre

Also see David's review of Chinglish


Nick DeSantis
Mid-'60s Manhattan brings to mind Barefoot in the Park, TV's "That Girl," the good old Broadway tuners that sent you out with your toes tappin' to "Mame", "Big Spender", and "Cabaret" (which all became pop hits out of context of the shows they were in), and glossy trash novels like "Valley of the Dolls", pop-horror like "Rosemary's Baby," and true life blood and gore as recounted in "The Boston Strangler." Noted screenwriter William Goldman fashioned his own darkly comic version of the latter, No Way to Treat a Lady which became a gem of a cult movie that gave Rod Steiger one of his greatest film turns as the strangler, and George Segal a career boost as the detective on the case. In 1987 Douglas J. Cohen crafted a fairly faithful book, as well as clever lyrics and hummable tunes for an Off-Broadway musicalization which was successfully revived in the early 1990s. Village Theatre produced a modest but charming staging of the show back in 1999, and decided to bring it back some 16 years later in a smashingly performed main-stage production which goes more for the laughs than the creep factor elements of the tale, as does Cohen's adaptation.

Amidst the fanciful and brightly colored set design backgrounds of Bill Forrester (which resemble nothing so much as the backgrounds in a Mr. Magoo cartoon), we meet Christopher "Kit" Gill, son of great lady of the New York stage Alexandra Gill, who has just passed on. Always in Mum's shadow, Kit, a failed actor himself, spurred on by the chastisements he gets from Alexandra's portrait that "talks" to him, decides the best way to rate a New York Times headline is to go into the strangler business, using every disguise and accent in the book to gain easy access to older ladies' abodes where he can take their lives and place himself center stage. The detective on the first murder, Morris Brummell, has lived with his own overly doting Jewish mother Flora out of obligation since his father passed. Checking out the first murder, Morris starts a relationship with Sarah Stone, a knockout of a well to do Upper East Side girl, who grows progressively wary of how obsessed Morris is becoming with the case. The murders continue, but Morris allows Sarah to meet his mother, whom she wraps around her little finger. Kit knows how to play Morris and soon the elusive Times headline is obtained. What's next? Morris is frustrated, Sarah feels threatened, and Flora is noticing a change in her son. Twists and light chills fill out the tale but that's enough of a synopsis, methinks.

Director Steve Tomkins makes sure the show has a glossy sheen to it, Chrystal Dawn Munkers has created some engaging light choreography, and above all the cast is an A-team that knocks the material out of the ballpark. Nick DeSantis makes Kit flamboyant, frenetic, psychotic, and even a bit sympathetic, and he gets a "Rose's turn" moment in "Once More From the Top" when Kit's delirium has really scaled the heights. Dane Stokinger is charmingly bewildered and mother-smothered as Morris, and paired ideally here with real-life wife Jessica Skerritt as Sarah. They sparkle on the show's most infectious number "So Far, So Good" and make a convincing pair of unlikely lovers. Skerritt nails the insides of insides of a rich girl who'd give up everything for the right guy, and she is also showcased vocally in another strong number, "One of the Beautiful People." As Flora Brummel, Jayne Muirhead is not on unfamiliar ground playing a nudgy jewish mother, but she is a hoot and a half, and when she and Skerritt's Sarah discover they have "So Much in Common," the number fairly brings down the house.

The cast's ace in the hole is unquestionably Bobbi Kotula, smashingly taking on the role of the apparition of Alexandra, as well as all the female victims, making them distinct and delicious. The one true dark corner of the show is the haunting number "Still" in which Kit moves in for the kill on Kotula's faded good-time gal Sadie. This darker-hued moment shows that Cohen could have gone another way with the whole show. For fans of the book or movie this may be off-setting, but to each his own.

The lighting design by Aaron Copp is the perfect accompaniment to Forrester's sets, and Melanie Taylor Burgess' costumes are a panacea of NYC styles and colors of the period. Musical direction by R.J. Tancioco is top-notch, and the small band does well by Cohen's bright and bouncy score.

No Way to To Treat A Lady runs through April 26, 2015, at Village's Francis G. Gaudette Mainstage at 303 Front Street North, Issaquah, WA, before moving to Everett P.A. Center May 1-24, 2015, at 2710 Wetmore Ave, Everett, WA. For ticketing and more information visit www.villagetheatre.org.


Photo: Mark Kitaoka



- David Edward Hughes



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