Review: Rep's murder musical isn't to die for
|Audie Gemora stars as an unemployed actor who becomes a serial killer in "No Way to Treat A Lady." Photo from the Facebook page of Repertory Philippines|
MANILA, Philippines – The casting was spot-on, the set was eye-catchy and the actors generally delivered but Repertory Philippines’ second offering this season, the off-Broadway musical murder mystery “No Way to Treat A Lady,” can hardly be called a “killer” musical.
Based on the novel of William Goldman, which was also made into a 1968 movie starring Rod Steiger, “No Way to Treat a Lady” is a dark musical comedy about an unemployed actor turned serial killer, who kills older women in an effort to gain approval from his deceased mother (a Broadway star) and, more importantly, to get on the front page of the New York Times. Assigned to the case is a detective with his own mommy problems, who establishes a strange alliance with the killer to further his moribund career.
But the plot is more intriguing on paper than on stage. The familiar setup and stock characters found in numerous films of this sort in the ‘60s and ‘70s from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” to Brian de Palma’s “Dressed to Kill,” create a predictability that renders the musical flat. While the scenes with Audie Gemora as the serial killer Christopher Gill are imbued with dark humor, the romantic subplot involving the detective Morris Brummel (Joel Trinidad) and an upper-class woman Sarah (Carla Guevarra Laforteza) drag the narrative. And apart from the lovely ballad “So Far, So Good,” Douglas J. Cohen’s Stephen Sondheim-inspired score is hardly memorable and too laidback for the story.
Those expecting an intense musical a la “Sweeney Todd,” which also starred Gemora, would be disappointed.
To the credit of Gemora (who also directed this musical) and the rest of the cast, they did rise above the material. Sheila Francisco made the most of her scene-stealing role as the stereotyped Jewish mother, as did Pinky Marquez, who took on multiple roles as Gill’s mother and victims. Guevarra-Laforteza once again showed off her pristine vocals, which is certainly among the best in local musical theater.
Trinidad may not have the powerful pipes of his more musical co-stars but he truly gives justice to his character, avoiding the usual traps of portraying a mama’s boy, as Trinidad knows that what’s missing with the detective is confidence and probably drive – not testosterone.
But the show still rightfully belongs to Gemora, whose Gill is more delusional than outright crazy, making him a bit more sympathetic. When Gemora as Gill dons a dress for another killing spree, he doesn’t go for easy laughs or camp humor. By playing it straight, he makes the song “Still” that rare suspenseful number of the musical.
Props too for the rest of the artistic team, particularly Mio Infante, whose set is dominated by a large front page of the New York Times that practically envelopes the stage action. With just a series of risers and rolled in pieces, Infante creates a stylized rendition of the traditional film noir look complete with window blinds. John Batalla’s lighting design also captures the atmosphere of film noir that Gemora is gunning for. Also notice Raven Ong’s costumes which are basically black and white with the obvious pops of red.
There’s no doubt that Rep’s production of “No Way to Treat A Lady” is professional in every sense. But with material that doesn’t really offer anything new, one can only do so much to bring it to life.
"No Way to Treat a Lady" runs until March 24 at Onstage in Greenbelt 1, Makati City.