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No Way to Treat a Lady

Darlinghurst Theatre Company presents NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY -The Musical, at the Darlinghurst Theatre.

NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY – the Musical. Book, Music and Lyrics by Douglas J Cohen. Based on the novel by William Goldman was first performed in 1987 and was revived off-Broadway in 1996.

The novel apparently is a gently comic riff inspired by the Boston Strangler case written by Mr Goldman (Screenplays: BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID(1966); MARATHON MAN (1976); ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976); THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987); MISERY (1990) under the pseudonym of Harry Longbaugh (the real name of the Sundance Kid) after a bout of writer’s block.

The film of NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY (1968)  was adapted by John Gay and starred Rod Steiger, George Segal, Lee Remick and Eileen Heckart. The  film, from memory, does not really work, a kind of “darkly comic thriller”. The tone of the film never really finds its clarity and I remember it, mostly, because of a weird  image, for that time, of a famous Hollywood star, Rod Steiger, in drag and a very blond wig in a climatic scene. Cause celebre, indeed in ’87!

This musical adaptation by Mr Cohen, written economically for four performers, also finds the tone a little difficult to plumb. That one of the principal character’s we see commit  crimes as a vicious serial strangler/killer, and, then, converting him into a song-and-dance man may have been a near impossible conception and hence the tonal awkwardness (although, Stephen Sondheim in his operatic-musical SWEENEY TODD, THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET gets away with it as does Kander and Ebb in CHICAGO).

But despite the slightly macabre creepiness that permeates the work this simply confident and breezy production by Stephen Colyer has some charm to keep the musical theatre fan interested. While not exactly a lost treasure of the genre it is very interesting and should be an attractive offer for the FAN of the Musical.

On a simple but clever one-set design by David Fleischer (Costume, as well)  the many locations are swiftly changed with furniture re-organisation and the invitation to use our own imaginations. Lighting by Gavan Swift.

The four performers are super charged and personable with a clean and confident drawing of character, (musical theatre characters! – not much in the way of insightful depths), serving the text as fully as the writing allows, with professional proficiency.

Phillip Lowe, as the Jewish-son detective stumbling onto a series of crimes that will make or break his professional identity, Morris Brummell, is delightfully erudite in managing the cliché of the script demands, including building a credible relationship with a rich heiress, Sophie Stone, played charmingly by Katrina Ketallick. Julie O’Reilly has the most challenge in the work, playing not only THE Jewish mother (dare I say? a rival to Woody Allen’s Mother in the 1989 film NEW YORK STORIES – OEDIPUS WRECKS ) as well as all the victims of the strangler. Ms O’Reilly charts her way competently through the dramatic challenges and costume changes. Jason Langley as Christopher “Kit” Gill creates blithely the demands of this difficult character genre mix with such brio that one just surrenders and enjoys the ridiculousness of  it all – Mr Langley’s drag and wig moment extremely tasteful and credible, in contrast to the Steiger horror.

The music and lyrics are reasonably pleasant if not particularly memorable with some surprises to keep one alert. The musical direction by Craig Renshaw is exemplary and all the performers are confident and impressive.

The performance I saw kept the audience entertained and the work gathered a warm support as it unwound. This is a very impressive production by Mr Colyer, as was his work last year on KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN in this tiny space, and can be recommended to the dedicated fan of the Musical Theatre, who like to capture the curious and rarely performed work as part of their repertoire history. An easy way to spend a night or afternoon in the theatre that is reasonably, real value for money.

The performers are worth catching for their creative diligence and sense of exploration.