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No Way to Treat a Lady

cover to original cast recording

A musical comedy thriller in 2 acts. Book, music and lyrics by Douglas J. Cohen. Based on the novel by William Goldman

York Theatre Company, St Peter's Church, New York. 11th December, 1996 - 2nd February, 1997. (44 perfs)


New York City, 1970.

Detective Morris Brummell and actor Christopher "Kit" Gill have much in common: both dream of success headlined in The New York Times and contend with overbearing mothers. Morris shares an apartment with his mother, Flora Brummell, while Kit's mother, Alexandra, a recently deceased theatrical star, continues to haunt him.

To make a name for himself, Kit poses as Father Barry Fitzgerald and pays a visit on Mrs. Sullivan, whose husband recently passed away. He eases her suffering by offering mundane homilies and strangling her to death. His final coup de grâce is a red lipstick kiss, which he draws on her forehead.

Morris is assigned to the case. After finding clues that lead nowhere, Morris begins interviewing the other tenants in the victim's building. He meets beautiful art gallery employee, Saran Stone, and it is love at first sight - at least for Morris. Sarah sees him as a welcome respite from her superficial circle of friends, and the two agree to a date the next night.

Kit's murder gets a mention in the New York Post, Daily News, but not a word in The Times. Disguising his voice as Father Fitzgerald. Kit phones Morris at the precinct to protest this oversight. When Morris begins to suspect his caller might not be the genuine article, Kit abruptly excuses himself, noting "the stores will be closing soon … and I'm fresh out of lipstick."

Disguised as an Arthur Murray, dance instructor, Kit calls on Carmella Tocci, whose recent dance partner, Paolo, joined God "in that great ballroom in the sky." After a dramatic clash of wills, not to mention tempos, Carmella reunited with Paolo.

Kit immediately rings Morris to confess this late breaking news and urges him to notify the press. Morris, realising the case may finally eam him recognition, excitedly rushes to the scene of the crime. Meanwhile, Kit has fled to his loft to celebrate his latest escapade, while his mother's ghost looks on disapprovingly. He regresses in her "presence" and implores Alexandra to delay her "departure" f or the theatre to watch him perform. Her dismissal of his talent leaves Kit devastated and alone.

For their first date, Morris takes Sarah for a picnic in Central Park. Even though they come from two entirely different worlds, they emotionally connect. As Morris tries to summon the courage to make a physical connection, Kit appears at another location in disguise as a French waiter and has no trouble making advances on his next victim.

While making breakfast the following morning, Morris tries to keep his date a secret from his mother Due to her keen powers of deduction, he is woefully unsuccessful. A phone call from Kit interrupts this family feud, "If you're having trouble with mother," Kit notes, "I can dash right over and offer my services!" After a moment's hesitation, Morris declines. Kit encourages Morris to call The Times, if only to further Morris' own career. However tempted, Morris resolutely states, 'I don't negotiate with killers."

During the next couple of weeks, Morris walks a tightrope, dividing his time between Sarah and Kit. Kit is angered by Morris' attentiveness to Sarah. and he decides to teach Morris a lesson by ending all communication. Morris, fearful he'll lose the case, becomes so obsessed with this 'silent treatment' that his romantic dinner with Sarah ends before the first course is served. Ever the optimist, Sarah believes the relationship can be salvaged once she has charmed Morris's mother at an forthcoming Sunday brunch.

Eager to win Alexandra's approval, Kit goes on a killing spree with Morris close at his heels. As the chase continues, the body count rises, and Morris' moral fiber unravels. When Kit assumes his last disguise as 'Detective Morris Brummell" the real Detective Brummell places a call to The New York Times.

As Act Two begins, an elated Kit discovers he and Morris have finally made the front page of The Times. Flora Brummell celebrates her son's success, Sarah and Morris contemplate the price of fame.

Hours later, Morris and Sarah arrive at the Brummell home for brunch. Flora Brummell is ready to loathe Sarah, but Sarah's endless resourcefulness triumphs... much to Morris' amazement.

With The New York Times in hand, Kit expects the ghost of his mother to applaud his "rave reviw.' Instead, Alexandra cruelly reproaches him: "Whether you're a successful killer or a successful actor, you still can't get arrested in this town!" Shattered, Kit phones Morris for a sympathetic ear. But after hearing Sarah's voice in the background, Kit feels twice rejected and decides it's time for a "comeback" this time disguised as Sarah!

Sarah is jubilant with her victory over Flora, but Morris wonders if Sarah's romantic advances are due to his celebrity status and the case. Echoing sentiments Kit expressed in the earlier phone conversation, Morris can't see what a woman with grace, beauty, and social status would want with a "Moe Brummell." Sarah reveals that looks can be deceiving.

Disguised as Sarah, Kit enters the apartment of an unsuspecting lush, Sadie Bellows. As Sadie begins to see through Kit's disguise, Kit, the performer, experiences stage fright - after the front page of The Times and Alexandra's rejection, there's little point to the charade. Trouper that he is, however, Kit tries to rise to the occasion.

Morris and Sarah spend a romantic night together in her apartment, only to be awakened by a jarring call from Kit. Having failed to strangle Sadie, Kit begs Morris to keep the story from The Times. Morris will comply only if Kit turns himself in. Furious, Kit vows that if the story is not buried, "you'll be forced to bury my next victim!" Sarah is appalled that the killer has her unlisted number, although Morris swears he never shared her number with anyone. Morris' obsession with the case, however, leads Sarah to draw her own conclusions and when Carleton, one of Sarah's new co-workers, calls and suggests they meet, Sarah accepts out of spite. Morris returns to his apartment where Flora expresses her fears that he'll lose the case to another cop. Morris finally asserts himself and decides he needs a new life and a new home. But Kit's phone call to Sarah's apartment haunts him. While Sarah travels to Carleton's, Morris realises his competition is none other than the multi-faceted Kit! He rushes off to save her as Kit vows to make good on his earlier threat.

Morris arrives in the nick of time, but Kit grabs a gun and threatens to shoot Sarah unless Morris drops his own weapon. Morris reluctantly obeys. But when the wily detective suggests Sarah doesn't fit the pattern of the strangler's previously maternal victims, Alexandra appears in Kit's mind. Distracted by her apparition, Kit lets down his guard, and Sarah escapes. Morris seizes his chance and grabs his nearby gun, wounding Kit in the arm. When Morris orders Kit to drop his weapon, Kit suggests that death would be a more acceptable fate. Morris refuses to shoot him in cold blood, and Kit pretends to lay down his gun. But at the last second, he aims it at Sarah, knowing Morris will instinctively fire. Mortally wounded, Kit pulls the trigger, and only a flame appears - the flame of a cigarette lighter! As he lies dying, he imagines Alexandra is singing him softly to sleep.

Hours later, Morris attempts to make it up with Sarah. At first his apologies fall on deaf ears, but when he declares he has moved out of his mother's apartment, Sarah begins to respond. Morris' renouncement of publicity and a heartfelt marriage proposal convince Sarah that he deserves a second chance as the curtain falls.

Cast of Characters

Cast: (in order of appearance)

Musicalal Numbers

  1. I Need A Life - Morris, Flora, Kit
  2. Only A Heartbeat Away - Kit, Mrs. Sullivan
  3. Crime Scene Report - Morris
  4. So Far, So Good - Morris, Sarah
  5. Safer In My Arms - Kit, Carmella
  6. I've Been A Bad Boy - Kit, Morris
  7. What Shall I Sing For You? - Kit, Alexandra
  8. The First Move - Morris, Sarah, Kit
  9. I Hear Humming - Flora, Morris
  10. Lunch With Sarah - Morris, Kit
  11. So Far, So Good (reprise)
  12. You're Getting Warmer - Sarah, Kit, Alexandra, Morris
  13. Front Page News - Kit, Sarah. Morris, Flora
  14. So Much In Common - Morris, Sarah, Flora
  15. Once More From The Top - Kit
  16. One Of The Beautiful People - Sarah
  17. StIll - Kit, Sadie
  18. I Have Noticed A Change - Sarah
  19. Once More From The Top (reprise) - Sarah, Morris, Flora, Kit
  20. What Shall I Sing For You? (reprise) - Kit, Alexandra
  21. So Far, So Good (reprise) and Finale - Morris, Sarah