Seen in London only once for a short run at the Arts Theatre back in 1998 with Donna McKechnie, Joanna Riding and Tim Flavin in the cast, Douglas J Cohen’s musical comedy thriller makes an overdue return at Clapham’s Landor Theatre and it’s well worth the wait.
Some musicals become famous without deserving to but here’s one that made it only Off-Broadway and to the London fringe, never achieving the fame of the 1968 Rod Steiger/Lee Remick movie that spawned it, but turns out to be an absolute cracker.
It’s a joy from start to finish and the cast of four’s evident enjoyment at playing this unabashedly histrionic romp, two of them taking on so many parts it’s hard to keep up, quickly transfers itself to an audience only a few feet away in this tiny space and stays there for two hours that pass in a flash.
True, the songs are likeable rather than memorable, but there isn’t a dud among them – ‘So Far, So Good’, ‘I’ve Been a Bad Boy’ and the witty ‘So Much in Common’ stand out – and the fine voices of Graham Mackay-Bruce, Simon Loughton, Judith Paris and Kelly Burke do them full justice.
Loughton is a very tall young Australian from the Royal Academy of Music who can do the lot, sing, act and dance, and is one to watch, while at the other end of the experience-scale, Paris is a five-star hoot playing five parts – the two mothers and the three dotty old murder victims. All those voice and character changes are an impressive night’s work, particularly with so many costume changes in this cramped room above the Landor pub.
Mackay-Bruce is the endearing detective so obsessed with unravelling the problems which Loughton’s murderous master of disguises sets him as an Irish priest, a Spanish dancer, a French waiter, a pizza delivery boy and a shy cross-dresser that he almost loses the posh totty, the beautifully dressed Burke who inexplicably fancies him in preference to the champagne lifestyle up in the Hamptons.
Well done to the ever-inventive Landor under its long-time director Robert McWhir for dusting the cobwebs off this little gem which is clever, funny, tuneful and goes along at a lickety-spit pace that never lets up until the loveable New York cop Moe Brummel (the name itself is a laugh as his dress sense is the opposite of his namesake Beau) finally gets his man of many voices – and the girl of his dreams as well.
Both hero and villain have mother fixations: the detective is still living at home with his dominating Jewish mom with the love of a good woman the only way out, while the killer, a camp failed actor called Kit Gill, reckons the only way to achieve the fame of the acclaimed late actress who begat him is to get on to the front pages of all the New York dailies as a serial strangler of old ladies so clever that the NYPD cannot catch him.
The five-strong band under MD Nicholas Chave with Victoria Bell (reeds), Michael Thomas (trumpet), Felicity Hindle (drums/percussion) and Doug Grannell (bass) provide perfect back-up to a hugely enjoyable evening, and although the Boston Globe’s verdict that “it’s the first Sondheim-influenced musical that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as his” has to be regarded as a trifle OTT, it certainly deserves an audience. No Way to Treat a Lady is definitely the right way to treat a musical.
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