Musical ‘Comedy’ Mixes Murder/Laughter

A serial killer and a New York City detective, both with crippling ”mommy” issues, cross paths in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of “No Way to Treat A Lady.”

Detective Morris Brummel (Zachary Rivers, right) gets a call from a killer (Brent Graber, left) during astressful visit with his mother in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY. (Photos by Mel Moore)

Based on a 1964 novel by author/screenwriter William Goldman (“The Princess Bride,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “All The President’s Men”), it became a 1968 film starring Rod Steiger and, almost 20 years later, a “musical comedy thriller” with book, music and lyrics by Douglas J. Cohen.

Be advised. This is not your high-stepping, big cast musical.

True, there are almost a dozen characters but they are played by a cast of five who manage to fill the stage as this definitely “black comedy” progresses.

It opens with a deceptively sweet scene as Father Barry Fitzgerald (sound familiar?) pays a call on Mrs. Sullivan, an elderly, recently-widowed parishioner.

But wait. Father Fitzgerald (1940s movie fans will get the reference) is really Christopher “Kit” Gill (Brent Graber), a mediocre actor determined to match the fame of his recently deceased mother, Alexandra Gill (Annette Kaczanowski), with a notice in The New York Times, achieved by any means necessary.

dancer
Christopher “Kit” Gill romances his second victim in Spanish dancer Carmella Tucci (Annette Kaczanowski) in heElkhartCivic Thetre production of NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY.

Unfortunately for Mrs. Sullivan (also played by Ms. Kaczanowski) this means joining her husband, ready or not, with a post-mortem lipstick kiss drawn on her forehead

The homicide case is assigned to Detective Morris Brummell (Zachary Rivers) ,who still lives with his mother Flora (Julie Herrli Castello), definitely a less-than-supportive parent. In the course of his investigation, Morris meets Sarah Stone (Michelle Miller), a tenant in the victim’s building, and immediately falls in love.

Meanwhile Kit, unhappy that his crime has not made The Times, contacts the detective and draws him into his murderous plot, proceeding to up his game via his next victim, Spanish dancer Carmella Tucci (Ms. Kaczanowski again), who has just lost her partner. This time, Kit is disguised as an Arthur Murray (the ‘40s again!) dance instructor. Their tango ends with a deadly kiss.

The homicidal wave continues until ….but no more spoilers here. Enough to say that Ms. Kaczanowski has still one last character to create and Morris has to get his priorities straight.

The score contains some lovely melodies, several with a definitely macabre flavor. Kaczanowski deserves major applause for her swift and definitive segues from character to character, attitudes and accents well in hand. Rivers is properly frustrated, balancing love and duty while struggling to overcome the insecurity developed through years of smothering “mother love.” He and Miller display the show’s best voices and she creates a warmly stubborn young woman who never loses I\sight of her objective.

Detective Morris Brummell (Zachary Rivers) takes his girlfriend Sarah Stone (Michele Miller) on a picnic in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY.

Castello is constantly shrill, making Morris’ desire to get out instantly understandable. As the increasingly frustrated actor/killer, Graber’s desire to one-up his late mother is exacerbated by her scathing remark “Whether you’re a successful killer or an unsuccessful actor, you still can’t get arrested in this town.” His rising anger is the through-line of the story and he handles it well.

The production is directed by John Shoup assisted by Penny Shoup, with vocal direction by Kim Dooley and choreography by Jackiejo Brewers. Keyboardist Miriam Houck is music director with keyboardist Brenda Summers, clarinetist Grace Johnson and percussionist Mark Swendsen.

Director Shoup designed the flexible set which features a portrait of Alexandra by Jeff Barrack and integrated slide designs by Sandy and Brian MacGowan indicating locations in 1970 Manhattan. A stage crew of NYPD’s finest makes quick work of the many scene changes.

NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY plays Friday through Sunday and March 16-17 in the Bristol Opera House on SR 120 in Bristol. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 848-4116 .

Murderous Farce Features Holmes Twist

Since his first Broadway hit in 1989, prolific playwright Ken Ludwig has kept most of this country’s regional — and community — theaters well-supplied in entertaining fare.

Most of it is strictly no-nonsense — make that plenty of nonsense — farce (“Lend Me A Tenor”) while several set the pratfalls to music (“Crazy For You”).

The Ludwig offering that opened Friday evening in the South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Theatre

mixes holiday merriment with murder. From it’s title, “The Game’s Afoot or Holmes for the Holidays,” it doesn’t take much to deduce that the rough-and-tumble action will be laced with mayhem or that the detail-minded detective will be Sherlock Holmes as played by actor William Gillette.

Actually, it’s Bill Svelmoe playing Gillette playing Holmes.

The Game's Afoot South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreGillette was a Broadway actor /director/playwright at the turn of the century. With the permission of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle he wrote a four-act drama starring himself as Holmes. Over the course of 30 years, he played the character more than1,300 times and is responsible for Holmes’ signature deerstalker cap and Meerschaum pipe.

The setting for Ludwig’s mystery/farce is Gillette’s Connecticut castle (still a tourist attraction) to which he has invited the cast of his play for a holiday — and to determine who shot at him during a recent performance. He plans to answer this question in true Holmesian fashion.

Under the direction of Tucker Curtis, the eight-member cast features mostly area theater veterans. Led by Svelmoe they are Mary Ann Moran as the actor’s mother Martha Gillette; Mark Moriarty as his best friend Felix Geisel; Lucinda Gary Moriarty as Felix’ wife Madge; Casey St. Aubin as leading man Simon Bright; Grace Lazarz as Simon’s girlfriend Aggie Wheeler; Kate Telesca Banks as drama critic Daria Chase; and Laurisa LeSure as police Inspector Goring.

The Game's Afoot  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreDuring the course of the evening, one is murdered and the others, when not confessing to the crime, run around literally in circles trying to find the killer.

Damon Mroczak’s scenic design covers a lot of territory. The set contains several “hidden features” including a suit of armor which serves as an intercom and a trophy wall which doubles as a bar (and body hiding place).

The action opens on a theater stage where the company is playing Shakespeare but as the action is in front of the Gillette drawing room set, it takes a while to realize that it is not taking place in that room.

The location changes to the mansion which features a giant art deco something high above the sliding doors to the patio. I suppose it was a window but it really was a distraction. On the second level, the door frames should have been taller as anyone going in or out had to stoop to avoid hitting his/her head. For the Christmas setting, there were only a few decorations and no tree.

As for the actors, they were again fighting the playing space which tends to swallow all dialogue not aimed directly at the audience. Crisper diction and projection is a must.

It seemed that there were only two vocal levels: shouting or mumbling. Svelmoe and Mark Moriarty shouted a good deal, primarily at each other. They were at their best when trying desperately to find a place to hide the corpse.

LeSure was so soft as to be completely unintelligible. Banks stood out as the caustic, sarcastic newspaper columnist who seemed to have everybody’s number.

THE GAME’S AFOOT or Holmes for the Holidays” run has been extended through June 18 in the theater at 403 N. Main St. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit sbct.org.