A gender-bending spin of the Dial

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Michael Ryan Buckley, Lily Kaufman and Kimberlee Connor in Greater Boston Stage Company's "Dial M for Murder." Photo by Maggie Hall Photography.
Michael Ryan Buckley, Lily Kaufman and Kimberlee Connor in Greater Boston Stage Company's "Dial M for Murder." Photo by Maggie Hall Photography.

And, Jersey Boys

Dial M for Murder, Greater Boston Stage Company, Stoneham, through May 19. 781-279-2200 or greaterbostonstage.org

If you think you know everything about "Dial M for Murder," think again. Yes, Alfred Hitchcock turned Frederick Knott's 1952 play of the same name into an absorbing 1954 film starring Ray Milland as retired professional tennis player Tony Wendice intent on committing the perfect murder of his wealthy socialite wife Margot—played by Grace Kelly.

Two years ago dramatist Jeffrey Hatcher wrote a taut thriller with the Knott original's 1950's period ambience but dialed in a clever gender-bending twist and other striking touches. Now Greater Boston Stage Company artistic director Weylin Symes is helming its area premiere in a superb production very much worth calling all of your family and friends to see.

From the moment that one first sees Katy Monthel's handsome high ceilinged Wendice living room setting, Weylin and company clearly have Hatcher's number. Witty, often ironic dialogue follows about the reasons for committing murder—namely money, fear, jealousy, revenge and the desire to protect someone you love. Here as in the Knotts play, the suave husband is hiring shady, alias-rich Lesgate to kill his wife.

The basic plotting—with Wendice planning a perfect murder that goes wrong—remains the same, but Hatcher has added some ingenious updating in the sum of the characters' relationships and professional associations. Here Tony has become a failed writer who now works as a book publisher, and his client is hit thriller novelist Maxine Hadley, Where Knott's Margot has loved writer Max, Hatcher's vulnerable heroine loves Maxine—a perilous lesbian relationship in 1950's England. Tony's alibi here strikingly involves accompanying Maxine to a BBC radio interview at the time of the attempted murder.

Symes' talented cast makes the witty repartee and Maxine and Margot's combination of bravery and resourcefulness very engaging. Lily Kaufman has all of Maxine's savvy and pluck, while Kimberlee Connor captures Hatcher's feistier Margot. Michael Ryan Buckley matches Milland's suave demeanor and low-key dangerousness framing Margot. Bill Mootos has all of Lesgate's elusiveness from the moment he enters the Wendices' apartment. Robert D. Murphy finds Inspector Hubbard's attitude and tough posture questioning Maxine. Deirdre Gerard's costumes catch the men's sartorial reserve and Margot and Maxine's often livelier attire, Jeff Adelberg's expressive lighting and Andrew Duncan Will's evocative sound design make the most of the famed attempted murder and self-defense sequence.

As in the Knott original, the right key makes all the difference. Dial M for magnificent at GBSC.

Jersey Boys, North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly, through May 19. 978-232-7200 or nsmt.org

Musical fans ought to find it hard to take their eyes off of "Jersey Boys" at North Shore Music Theatre. After all, the Tony Award-winning jukebox musical boasts a properly smart and insightful Marshall Brickman-Rick Elise book—also rightly a Tony winner. If director-choreographer Kevin P. Hill does well with the sharp Rashomon-like four-character narrative about the strengths and weaknesses of the Four Seasons themselves, he could do more to fire up the renditions of the North Shore quartet.

Zane Zapata has the right rage as Franki Valli in dealing with often self-serving Tommy Devito—played with convincing control by Chris Marsh Clark. Zapata does have some good falsetto moments—particularly on "My Eyes Adored You." Drake Leach as Nick DeVito effectively gripes about his brother's hotel habits. Aidan Cole catches Bob Gaudio's respect for Valli and his pivotal collaborating with gay songwriter-producer Bob Crewe—properly decisive about the group's music—most notably his own work with Gaudio. Even so, the renditions of signature numbers like "Walk Like a Man" should have more all-out energy in voice and trademark body moves.

Valli and Four Seasons fans need to adore "Jersey Boys." Right now the earnest NSMT revival is coming up short.