Wednesday, March 25, 2015

“No Way to Treat a Lady” is a great way to treat an audience

Nick DeSantis as Kit (Tracy Martin)
No Way to Treat a Lady
Village Theatre
Issaquah: through April 26, 2015
Everett: May 1-24, 2015

The history of the musical currently showing at Village Theatre is long, even for the normally-long development process for musicals! Starting as a book by William Goldman (author of The Princess Bride), No Way To Treat a Lady was made into a movie. Douglas J. Cohen saw the 1968 movie and was inspired to make it his first musical.

He was able to get it produced Off-Broadway in 1987! Here’s a link to a review. It was revived Off-Broadway in 1996, and Alix Korey was nominated for an Outer Critics’ Circle award for playing the showiest role in the musical (referenced below).

In the years since, he’s written over a dozen musicals, as listed on his web site, but has gone back several times to tinker with and improve (at least for him) this musical. He brought the musical to Village in 1999 to work on it. (Now, Village has a 14 year old Festival of New Musicals, which they formally began in 2000.) In 1999, Cohen and Village Artistic Director Steve Tomkins collaborated on a newer version, which is unusual for a show that has had two prior Off-Broadway productions. Today, the musical has been published, but Village Theatre is still treating it as a new musical for this production. Publication usually signifies that a work is finished.

This year, Cohen came back to Village to work on the production and make more changes as they remount the show on their main stage. I’m sure he felt privileged to watch this particular cast sing his songs and say his words. They are the perfect pocket cast for a comedy. They are some of the best comedic musical theater actors Seattle has available!

This is a total cast of five. The leads (can you have leads in a five person cast that’s even-handed in its use of characters?) are the villain, Nick DeSantis, and the cop, Dane Stokinger. The others are the cop’s mother, Jayne Muirhead, the girlfriend, Jessica Skerritt (married to Dane in real life), and the villian’s mother-plus-other-women-who-get-murdered, Village favorite, Bobbi Kotula.

The Village production is, as usual, top notch in technical areas, as well, with an inventive, cartoon-like set by Bill Forrester that drops down flat drawing-style set boards to suggest different scene locations, gorgeous and colorful 1960s costuming by Melanie Taylor Burgess, bright lighting by Aaron Copp, and fun sounds from Brent Warwick. Steve Tomkins directs briskly with movement help from Crystal Dawn Munkers (there’s no real dancing exactly). RJ Tancioco music directs surely. Cohen’s music is more challenging than you might expect from a comedy.

The showiest and funniest role is Kotula’s as many different characters. She practically steals the show. She usually practically steals a show, but here she’s got such comedy pros to work with that it makes it that much harder. But her range of acting, right in front of you, as she morphs from one older woman to another completely different older woman, is fall on the floor funny.

DeSantis plays a failed actor who has an obsession with his dead mother. She’s died a few days before the action starts, and his failures to live up to her ambitions, which seem to culminate in getting printed about on the front page of the New York Times, propel him to try to murder older women to get publicity. We see them interact, as Mother comes to life from a life-sized painting.

While DeSantis is usually a funny clown, in this production he is successfully creepy, so you don’t want to laugh at him as much. What the libretto (book or script) doesn’t quite help you understand, though, from the beginning, is any kind of back story about Kit’s obsession with his mother. I think, if there were one thing that could strengthen the musical, it would be a little more unfolding of his relationship with his mother that results in that first decision to go murder someone in order to get some publicity.

Besides that, the rest of the play is a romp where you don’t have to care much about anything except laughing and following the story of the beleaguered cop who gets phone calls from Kit exhorting him to help get publicity so they get on the front page of the Times.

The whole cast sings impeccably. The songs are fun to listen to and everyone gets a chance to shine. The sub-plot about how the cop’s mother compares him to a more successful brother, and how the girlfriend gets the mother to accept her gives Muirhead and Skerritt one of the best songs of the night. Skerritt doesn’t get as much other chance to show her comedic side, as both she and Stokinger are kind of the “straight” people (comedy-wise) so the others can ham it up.

This is definitely a show for most of the family. It’s got ‘60s reticence regarding language, so there aren’t any swear words to be afraid of and aside from the questionable taste of murdering people on stage, what’s not to like for almost all ages? Nu? As the Jewish mother would say…So, Go!

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