"No Way to Treat a Lady" is the second offering of Repertory Philippines for its current season. It bills itself as "A Musical in the Key of Murder." That got me intrigued because of this interesting mix of genre, just like "Sweeney Todd," which was a personal favorite musical of mine. So despite my unfamiliarity about its story, music or who the local cast was, and my apprehension about it being a dated piece, I went out of my way and schedule to see it.
This story of this play was first a 1968 novel by William Goldman, inspired by the Boston Strangler. It had a movie version also in 1968 starring Rod Steiger, George Segal, Lee Remick and Eileen Heckart. In 1987, Douglas J. Cohen adapted the story and wrote the book and music for a dark comedy-musical done Off-Broadway.
The story was about two adult men who were both held under the thumbs of their domineering mothers. Detective Morris Brummell (Joel Trinidad) still lives with his stereotypical Jewish mother Flora (Sheila Francisco). Unemployed theater actor Kit Gill (Audie Gemora) still lives under the big shadow of his recently departed mother, celebrated Broadway actress, Alexandra Gill (Pinky Marquez). Kit's sick mind hatches a plan to murder senior women who reminded him of his mother, leaving a signature of lips using red lipstick on his victims. Brummell's investigation leads him to meet a lovely art gallery hostess Sarah Stone (Carla Guevara-Laforteza), sparking a romantic side plot. How will Detective Brummell nail the serial killer and still get the girl, in light of his mother's overbearing ways?
Ok, I had to admit, the story is not too exciting. As I feared, like Rep's first show this season "Boeing Boeing," this show's material was hopelessly dated, 1970-ish. (Actually, Rep's next and most hihgly-anticipated show will also be set in the 1960s, "The Graduate." SCOOP! Replacing Cherie Gil as Mrs. Robinson will be Ms. Pinky Marquez!) The side plot about Brummell and his mother was really a tired cliche already. The music and songs were mildly funny and not entirely memorable. There were some flashes of smart wit here and there, but these were few, especially in this day and age where wit in comedy scripts demands to be more complex and rapid-fire. Most attempts at humor can tend to be groan-worthy because of its simplicity and familiarity.
However, it is a testament to the talent of the Filipino cast that we still are able to appreciate this play as a whole. There were only five persons in the cast and they all did remarkably well, in their roles (multiple roles for two of them).
Director and lead actor Audie Gemora, fresh from his last Rep role as "Sweeney Todd" plays another serial killer here, Kit Gill. He had to wear various costumes and play the various characters Gill had to assume in order to gain the trust of his victims before he killed them. He played a priest, a dance instructor, a waiter, a cop, and to top it all off, a FEMALE bar-goer (the dress! the legs! the shoes!)! Of course, his strong singing voice remains top-notch despite the unmemorable songs.
Joel Trinidad effectively had that foolish naive mama's boy vibe playing Detective Brummell. He plays it so successfully charming such that the audience will root for him to both catch the killer and get the girl.
Carla Guevara was so right for the role of Sarah Stone. She positively shone in two featured song numbers of hers, one funny delightful one with Morris' mother Flora entitled "So Much in Common", and one sad contemplative one, the lyrically dramatic "One of the Beautiful People". Her voice is really one of the best in local musical theater. She can make any song sound soulful and heartfelt.
Sheila Francisco had the scene-stealing role of Morris' mom Flora Brummell. Her happy song with Carla Guevara about having lots of things in common was her highlight. You got that domineering Jewish mom stereotype from her garish costume and awful wig. But Ms. Sheila was able to make us sympathize with her as well.
Pinky Marquez not only played the Norma Desmond-like diva Alexandra Gill, she obviously had a lot of fun playing all the other various victims of Kit Gill. She was very cute as the first victim Mrs. Sullivan. That was a precious little scene at the head of the stairs with her precarious wobbling. She was most memorable as the lusty Spanish lady dancer Carmella. You won't forget how she laid down on the divan! She was also hilarious as the drunk actress/bar-goer Sadie who had illusions that she was Blanche duBois. I enjoyed her very witty conversation with Kit in that part before he went for the kill.
It was just disappointing that the material seemed below the massive talents of the cast involved. They gave it their all and made the whole play more interesting and funnier than it really was. I can honestly say though that this stellar cast is more than enough reason for you to make that trip to Onstage to see this show. These special actors definitely rose over and above the limitations of the material they had to work with to give it that extra spark and life. Congratulations!
The Cast : Carla Guevara, Shiela Francisco, Joel Trinidad, Audie Gemora and Pinky Marquez
"No Way to Treat a Lady" opened yesterday March 1, and will play March 2, 8, 9, 15, 16, 22 and 23 at 8 p.m.; and March 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17, 23 and 24 at 3:30 p.m. at the Onstage in Greenbelt 1 in Makati City. Tickets are at P1200 for Center Orchestra, P800 for Side Orchestra and P500 for Balcony.