It all began with Hollywood screenwriting icon William Goldman’s 1964 novel of the same name. Four years later, Jack Smight (an oddly apt name given it’s a murder mystery) had John Gay adapt it for the screen. Why not Goldman? Good question. The film boasted a stellar cast: Steiger; Segal; Remick. It was Douglas J. Cohen who had the temerity to reinvent it as a musical, probably even blacker comedy, in 1987 and local director Stephen Colyer has resuscitated it, in partnership with musical directors Craig Renshaw and Chris King.

Gavan Swift brings some interesting lighting design to the party: in the latter stages, for example, emulating a monochromatic aesthetic. Budget was almost certainly limiting, but David Fleischer’s costumes were on the money, the set (though necessarily highly-flexible, as scenes overlap) was a little lame, leaving suspension of disbelief and theatre of the mind to plug the gaps.

But Jason Langley, Phillip Lowe, Julie O’Reilly and Katrina Retallick were all exceptionally strong, notwithstanding the odd fluff or stumble. By strong, I mean in both the dramatic and singing departments. I realise none are complete unknowns, by any stretch, but, given the talents involved, it’s a shame their bright lights are substantially hidden under bushels, even while lesser ones burn brightly.

Christopher Gill, a self-pitying failed actor, overshadowed and belittled by his late mother, a revered actress, who still holds psychological sway over him. He remains desperate to live up to her impossibly high-bar standards, and determines his only chance is to surrender to the notoriety murder promises. He carefully selects his victims based on the obit columns of The New York Times and seizes upon his macabre spree. Two-bit detective Mo Brummall, also oppressed by his mother, with whom he resides, is assigned the case, and sees his opportunity to creep up the foodchain, so he might have a fighting chance, in his mother’s eye, against his prominent brother, a professor of medicine, frequently quoted in The Times, as she’s fond of reminding him. “A Jewish policeman?! It’s unnatural!”, she pines, when not chastising him for not refrigerating his perishables.

It makes for a strange pact, in which the killer phones the detective, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs that ends, inevitably, in tragedy. Meanwhile, Brummall quietly celebrates the demise of each successive victim, as it brings him one step closer to cracking the case. He also happens upon an attractive, wealthy heiress, and we trace their romance, from spumante and stolen kisses to the brink of marital bliss. Of course, she has to impress Mo’s ma, which she does by praising her knaidlach.

Predictably, Gill’s victims are matronly, like his mother. He is a master of disguise and predominantly succeeds in his deeds by posing as a parish priest, dance instructor, cop and even a woman. His modus operandi is strangulation and his trademark, rosy red lipstick, by which medium he applies the mark of a kiss, on the forehead. He’s nothing if not a stylish evildoer.

It’s been derided locally and globally: some believe this neglected musical should stay that way. I reckon, while having no great aspirations beyond comedy, and while, even in that realm, it introduces nothing really new or surprising, it’s well written, lyrically and musically, and, thanks to this production team, though slight-to-marginal in terms of production values, well-played. It’s clever enough, cute enough, corny enough, kitsch enough and touching enough to make for a thoroughly enjoyable evening’s entertainment.  There’s even some typological character insight offered: after all, killers are, sometimes, surely, seeking the attention they’ve been unable to get by other means. The attention they might otherwise deserve. It doesn’t make them any more acceptable, but it does make them more understandable. And they often form bonds with cops. Or have I just seen too many crime dramas? Regardless, who can’t relate to a song like So Far, So Good? Essentially, it’s the day-to-day lament of all us mere mortals trying to make our way through the jungle that’s out there.

Not everything has to be edgy, mould-breaking, highly artistic, or deeply philosophical, after all. Sometimes, a good show and a good performance is just the ticket. Isn’t it? Or am I just getting old?

The details: No Way To Treat A Lady plays the Darlinghurst Theatre until November 13. Tickets on the venue website.