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A CurtainUp Berkshires Review
No Way to Treat a Lady
By Elyse Sommer
Disguising yourself as a kindly Irish priest or a slinky Latin dancer to gain entry into a middle aged woman's life and then killing her is indeed no way to treat a lady. Yet that's exactly what the mother-fixated, unemployed actor Christopher "Kit" Gill (Bradley Dean) does in order to get the attention that has eluded him. Dean's Kit, haunted and taunted by the ghost of his actress mother, transforms himself into a gallery of unashamedly over the top but varied characters. Whether Father Barry Fitzgerald (a sly bow to the actor once the stereotypical kindly Irish movie priest), Ramone the honors graduate of the Arthur Murray class of '68, or as his own fame-absorbed self, Dean throws himself into each role with marvelously manic abandon.
Dean is just one reason Rob Ruggiero's snappily staged revival of this intimate musical-noir is a fun finale for Barrington Stage's Summer 2000 season. Karen Murphy matches Dean's versatility by playing not only all his victims but the two mothers who prompt both leading men to start things off by singing "I Need a Life. " Murphy and Dean's quick changes into Murrell Horton's smorgasbord of personality perfect outfits boggle the mind. The multiple roles and Rob Bissinger's stage filling, gun metal gray cityscape set make the four member cast seem much more expansive. Jeff Croiter's lighting pulls your eye to the focal points of the many short scenes and highlights the actors movements across the broad Consolati Performing Arts Center stage.
Sandy Binion and Adam Heller complete the tight ensemble. Heller is Morris Brummel, the nebbish and not too swift detective to whom Kit phones in clues and who also has a mother problem (Where Alexandra Gill drove her son crazy with lack of attention, Flora Brummel has Morris gasping for air from her smothering love). Binion is well cast as Sarah Stone, the rich WASP who Morris meets and falls in love with while following up on the first killing. All performers sing as well as they act.
While taking on book, music and lyrics has exemplified high risk multi-tasking in some recent musicals, Douglas J. Cohen, like Mr. Dean and Ms. Murphy, proves himself up to doing it all. Of course the fact that the source of his book is William Goldman's novel and popular movie of the same name (with Rod Steiger as the psychopath, George Segal as the detective, Lee Remick as the romantic interest and Eileen Heckart as the nagging mother) makes for a solid foundation. Naturally, Goldman's murders had to be scaled down to accommodate the seventeen songs (not counting reprises).
Since the show will bring to mind such dark musicals as Chicago, City of Angels and Sweeney Todd, comparisons are also inevitable. The music and lyrics of No Way To Treat a Lady may not match those shows' sophistication, however, they are enjoyable enough to make you want to get the only available CD of the show (linked below). "I Need a Life", "So Far So Good" and Sarah's solo ballad, "One of the Beautiful People"" are standouts.
Best of all, and most impressively, the goofy double plot and the musical score work really well together. The two mother-pecked, unloved and unsuccessful middle-aged men's interaction, the in tandem musical numbers and the excellent production values add up to a dramatic and tuneful two hours and fifteen minutes, with enough tongue-in-cheek spoofing to make this unthreatening enough for the whole family. A pair of sisters aged eight and eleven, who were visiting a neighbor and attended a preview, sent me off to the opening with their praises ringing in my ears Their opinion was confirmed by an informal exit poll of several other youngsters at the performance I attended.
Musical director Darren R. Cohen, directs his band (also four players, plus Cohen at keyboard 1) with the same skills as Ruggieri directs the actors. For a small company like Barrington Stage to put on two musicals in one season is quite a feat. Judging from the sold-out house at last Saturday's official opening, there IS an audience for unconventional musical theater that depends not on big name actors and splashy productions, but on big-hearted performances and solid, concept supportive stagecraft.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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