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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on May 24, 2000. All rights reserved.

Review: `No Way to Treat a Lady’

E-mail: JackFlorek@princetoninfo.com

One of the most interesting features of the Off-Broadstreet

Theater’s production of the musical "No Way To Treat A Lady"

has little to do with actors, or scores, or production values, or

set design, or sound systems. Not that any of those theatrical elements

are particularly deficient. But simply the Off-Broadstreet Theater

is a charming space in which to enjoy live theater.

Housed in Hopewell, in a former movie theater built in 1940, producers

Robert and Julia Thick began renting their space in 1984 from George

Gallup, the famous poll-taker. "What they would do is show a movie

to a group of people, and tell them that in six weeks they’d call

them and ask what they remember about the film," Julia explains.

"Instead all they asked about was the commercials shown before

the movie."

Renovations proceeded slowly. "When we got here, there was six

inches of mud on the floor," says Julia, rolling her eyes at the

memory. But after a lot of fuss and hard work, and 14 years of renting

from the Gallup organization, they were finally able to purchase the

space in 1998. Creating a comfortable ambiance was a high priority

for the Thicks. The audience sits at candle-lit dinner tables and

sips coffee while watching the show.

Kicking off Off-Broadstreet’s 16th season is Douglas J. Cohen’s musical

adaptation of William Goldman’s novel "No Way To Treat A Lady."

Next up will be the farce "Will You Still Love Me in the Morning"

(July 14 to August 26), followed by a reprise production of "Mass

Appeal" by Bill C. Davis (September 8 to October 14), and "Swingtime

Canteen" (October 27 to December 9).

Douglas Cohen is an accomplished composer, lyricist, and librettist,

with a history of commercially successful musicals. "No Way To

Treat A Lady" premiered Off-Broadway in 1987, was substantially

rewritten and revised, and returned to Off-Broadway in 1996. (The

darkly violent 1968 Rod Steiger film version bears little resemblance

to the musical. Ditto for the 1973 Helen Reddy tune.) It proved to

be something of a hit, and enjoyed an extended run.

The story itself still retains the basics of Goldman’s novel. Morris

Brummell (played engagingly by Tom Orr) is a New York City police

detective suffering from low self-esteem and investigating a series

of murders involving young women. The mysterious killer (Harris Goodman)

leaves one distinguishing feature on each of his victims; imprinting

bright red lipstick lips on their foreheads. Detective Brummell, a

kind of good-hearted loser (especially in the eyes of his overbearing

mother who continually waves his brother-the-doctor’s success in his

face), must find the killer, and solve the crime, before another woman

is murdered. In fact, several more women are murdered, but the saving

grace for Brummell is that, thus far, no one that he actually knows

has met their gruesome death.

The killer, a publicity hound named Kit, repeatedly taunts Brummell

via telephone at home and office, dropping clues as to whom his next

victim may be, as well as admonishing Brummell for failing to get

both their names in the headlines of the New York Times. It seems

that Kit is psychologically damaged by his mother as well. She was

a successful Broadway actress who had the habit of continually waving

her success in front of her loser son’s face. Fortunately for Kit,

his mother recently died. Unfortunately, that didn’t end the taunting,

as the eerily amplified voice emerging from her portrait makes clear

throughout the performance.

Complications are further amplified when Brummell falls in love with

Sarah Stone (Michele Loor), a beautiful, young, and wealthy woman,

with all the effervescence of a youthful Mary Tyler Moore. Predictably,

the killer goes after Sarah, and with the stakes raised as high as

they can go, Brummell must face Kit, his evil alter-ego, face to face

and gun to gun.

"No Way To Treat A lady" is a certainly predictable, but then

again, in a musical the plot is really not the most important element.

Cohen’s songs are all enjoyable, interesting, and not entirely easy

to sing while running up and down a set of stairs. All the cast members

do an admirable job.

Tom Orr as Detective Brummell sings extremely well, and is perfectly

cast as the semi-bumbling hero. Michele Loor as the love interest

is suitably charming and sexy, although early on in the show her singing

voice was often drowned out by the live musicians. She did remedy

this after a couple of numbers. Harris Goodman’s evil killer is appropriately

creepy.

Best of all is Lois Carr, who plays five separate roles. From sexy

murder victim, to drunken street-trash, to all the mothers in the

show — she is able to portray each character as a separate personality,

making each one vivid and indelibly memorable.

Robert Thick’s direction is more than adequate. He certainly knows

how to keep things moving, and knows when to slow things down when

trying to create a more poignant moment. In fact, a real strength

to the musical is its mix of comedy and suspense, and Thick’s direction

serves these contrasting elements very well.

The set is also designed and built by Robert Thick, and fills the

bill in a utilitarian sort of way. The colors on the walls, along

with the painted scenery, are on the hokey of side of the theatrical

tracks. But not enough to detract from the musical.

The only real problem was the sound system. Each time voices were

supposed to be mysteriously disembodied, a crude amplification system

was employed. Unfortunately, it buzzed and thumped, and generally

made it difficult to actually hear what was being said.

But as these types of musicals go, "No Way To Treat A Lady"

is an enjoyable theatrical experience, filled with good tunes, fine

singers, interesting performances, and even a chuckle or two. And

man, oh, man, what a wonderful ambiance.

— Jack Florek

No Way to Treat a Lady, Off-Broadstreet Theater,

5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766. $20.50 & $22. Fridays

and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., through Saturday,

June 24.


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