As Queen Victoria used to say, “We are not amused.” Heaven knows, we wanted to be, but there is something just a little off-putting about the musical “No Way to Treat a Lady,” currently having its Los Angeles premiere at The Colony Theatre in Burbank.
Too much music, maybe? Too much plot?
Originally, William Goldman’s 1964 novel was adapted for the screen and starred Lee Remick, George Segal, and a very spooky Rod Steiger. Some 23 years later it became a musical comedy that played off-Broadway, with book, music, and lyrics by Douglas J. Cohen. That’s the version that’s playing at the Colony. After an off-Broadway revival in 1996, however, the show was relegated to regional theater status and hasn’t been seen very much since. “Cats” it isn’t.
“No Way to Treat a Lady” has two plots going simultaneously. The first involves a schnooky Jewish police detective who still lives with his mother in their New York apartment. Kevin Symons is an appealing schnook named Moe Brummel who comes to investigate a mysterious murder and immediately falls in love with one of the victim’s neighbors, a sexy lady named Sarah Stone (Erica Piccininni). (In the movie, the heroine was named Kate Palmer and part of the plot revolved around the fact that she wasn’t Jewish. So why in this production have they changed her name to Sarah Stone?)
The other plot deals with a serial killer named Christopher Gill (Jack Noseworthy) who, like Moe, has a mother fixation. His mother, who recently died, was a huge theater megastar, while Christopher is a would-be actor who can’t get a callback. So he launches his killing spree by donning various disguises and accents to gain entry to the apartments of older women and strangling them. His goal is to have his exploits covered by the New York Times. That’ll show his mother, right?
While Noseworthy has a strong voice and does a good job with his various disguises, there is something not very funny about the repetitive murders and the cavalier, remorseless way he deals with his victims. Piccininni, too, has a lovely voice, but she is not terribly convincing as Moe’s ladylove and there is not a whole lot of heat generated by their relationship.
The fourth member of the cast is Heather Lee, who plays all the murder victims, plus Moe’s Jewish mother (sample of her guilt shtick: berating Moe for some infraction with a reproachful, “Eighteen hours! Eighteen hours I spent in labor …”) and the ghost of Christopher’s mother, who, in her venomous way is just as emotionally destructive as Moe’s mother is. Heather Lee changes costumes and personas as readily as the killer does, but she isn’t as good at it as he. Her various accents are mostly unintelligible, and she delivers her lines in a pitch so shrill as to set dogs barking for miles around.
Perhaps the fact that there are two directors credited for this production, West Hyler and Shelley Butler, explains the unevenness of the performances. And Sibyl Wickersheimer doesn’t help much with the tacky set design. The really weird collection of furniture doesn’t tell you anything about the people who live there, and the way the stage is divided into its various components is awkward and unattractive. The only interesting part is the corner occupied by the killer, a room filled with costume changes and a stage mirror surrounded by lights. The lighting design by Jeremy Pivnick dramatically highlights the action.
The music is good, if sometimes a bit too operatic for the plotline, and it, too, like the plot, is overly repetitive.
Unfortunately, and sad to say, Queen Victoria got this one right.
“No Way to Treat a Lady” will continue at The Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., in Burbank Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. through May 17. There are also additional performances during the run, so call (818) 558-7000 ext. 15 for more information and reservations.
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