ON THE RECORD: Rebecca Luker Sings Kern on "I Got Love," Plus the Digital Release of No Way to Treat a Lady

By Steven Suskin
03 Feb 2013

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No Way to Treat a Lady [Ghostlight] The mid-'80s were a rough time for inventive, young, non-pop-oriented composers looked to establish a foothold in the American musical theatre. One such example is Douglas J. Cohen, a BMI Workshop composer who over the years has racked up a couple of Richard Rodgers Development Grants, a Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Theatre Foundation Award, a Jonathan Larson Award and more. Two of Cohen's musicals — No Way to Treat a Lady and The Gig — have been recorded. Both reveal an intelligent craftsman with sharp comedic sensibilities and a good melodic ear.

No Way to Treat a Lady has now made its way to digital release, and should prove a treat to listeners who savor off-beat and slightly macabre musicals. The show attracted a certain amount of attention — it was greeted as a pint-sized Sweeney Todd — when it opened Off-Broadway at the Hudson Guild in 1987. Not enough attention, alas, to warrant a transfer. But, then, in those days there wasn't much of a market on Broadway for a four-character, chamber musical comedy satire about a serial murderer. Nor was the show recorded at the time; unhappily so, as the cast included Stephen Bogardus (as the murderer) and Liz Callaway (as the girl).

The York Theatre, which has made it a mission to rescue unsung musicals, saw fit to revive the show in 1996. This time it was recorded, and it is that production — featuring Adam Grupper (as the cop, Moe Brummell), Paul Schoeffler (as the murderer), Marguerite MacIntyre (as the girl), and Alix Korey gagging it up as everybody else — that is now newly arrived.

Given the tongue-in-cheek nature of the score — with the murderer serenading his victims in various disguises (including a female one), and the fourth actor playing two monster mothers plus three victims — none of the songs are especially extractable. "So Far, So Good" — a charming, upbeat song — represents Mr. Cohen well. What is most delightful about the score — and most impressive — is the way the author incorporates tunes and characters into a musical tapestry.

"Front Page News" is a good example, with the four singers having different reactions to the murder story on page one. (The daffy plot, taken from a 1964 novel by William Goldman and the 1968 film version, tells of an unemployed actor whose ghostly mother — a la "Psycho" — derides him as a failure until he manages to get his name on the front page of the New York Times.) "I Need a Life," "Lunch with Sarah," "So Much in Common," "What Shall I Sing for You," all work well within the admittedly tight structure.

No Way to Treat a Lady is little-known; in researching this review, I discovered that the original production is not only excluded from the usually complete Theatre World series, it is altogether ignored by the Internet Off-Broadway Database. This rerelease will perhaps help alleviate this lapse, as Mr. Cohen is a songwriter we do not hear enough of. And in a day and age when there is a decided market for small-scale macabre chamber musicals, regional theatres and stock & amateur venues might do well to lend an ear to No Way to Treat a Lady.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes," "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," the "Broadway Yearbook" series and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also pens Playbill.com's Book Shelf and DVD Shelf columns. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)

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