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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Curtains has its flaws, but they fall by the wayside in the light of this particularly lively staging and the exuberant performances that make if fun and funny from curtain-up to curtain-down. Consider this a brazenly defiant throwback to the gags and guffaws-filled musical comedies that dominated Broadway before Broadway musicals began to take themselves seriously. It's is a murder-mystery musical comedy that offers no apologies for its preposterous pretensions.
Although it could just as easily been set in 1937, Curtains is set in 1959 within the confines of the Colonial Theatre in Boston (marvelously evoked by set designer Robert Andrew Kovach) during the out-of-town tryout of a new musical. It is to be enjoyed solely from for its ageless perspective. We unequivocally accept this delightful back-stage diversion on its own terms and let the murders begin.
Although Robert Newman and Kim Zimmer, both known for their roles in the long-running TV soap opera Guiding Light get above the title billing, this is an ensemble show relying to a large extent on the wonderful supporting cast to keep the show hopping even when there's a dead body a hanging. Newman appears to be having a swell time cavorting amiably as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi, a Boston police detective who not only wants to solve a growing number of back-stage murders, but he is also not adverse to offering suggestions on how to fix up the floundering show Robbin Hood, a no apologies send-up of Oklahoma. As Cioffi, Newman learns the time-step with as much ease has he shows his affection for show people. He is particularly endearing in a solo "Coffee Shop Nights." Amanda Rose is beguiling as Niki Harris, the lovely to look at and listen-to ingénue who becomes Cioffi's love interest and dancing partner in a delightful fantasy number.
It's easy to love the zaftig Zimmer as she puts a real Merman-esque dent in the role of Carmen Bernstein, the loud, pushy battleaxe of a producer who fronts the show's two obligatory and well calculated show-stoppers "Show People" and "It's a Business." Once you see how Zimmer takes charge of her nearly mutinous company, you know that a murder or two or three isn't going to keep her show from making its way to New York.
The show opens amusingly enough with the final scene, Robbin Hood. Jessica Cranshaw (Happy McPartlin) the talent-challenged leading lady is screwing up her lines and desecrating a hoot of a dance number "Wide Open Spaces, " only to pass out during the curtain calls. Oh, dear, she's been murdered. The show's company is confined to the theater until the investigation is completed insuring that everyone becomes a suspect and possibly the next target for the murderer.
Among those whose motives become more apparent with each contrived scene is Christopher Belling (Ed Dixon,) the self-enamored grandly affected director who's every utterance and attitude is geared to generate a laugh. To Dixon's credit, he delivers his one-liners with haughty aplomb. If he hated the leading lady so does Georgia Hendricks (a vivacious Helen Anker,) the show's lyricist who is instantly recruited to replace Jessica. Her hot and cold relationship with Aaron (Kevin Kern,) her ex-husband and composing partner thickens the plot.
It takes a long time for the plot, as devised by Rupert Holmes (based on the original book and concept by Peter Stone,) to boil (actually parboil.) The Kander and Ebb score is mostly refreshing and bright, but it takes patience until a really terrific song surfaces composed by Kander in part as a tribute his late partner. It may not rank high in the canon, but when you hear the melodic and heartfelt "I Miss the Music" as beautifully sung by the ingratiating Kern, you can't help but think of the loss that Kander felt. Other songs aspire, but do not always exceed the standard musical vocabulary in which Kander and Ebb excelled.
You will need a winking eye to appreciate the deliriously corny choreography created anew by Joann M. Hunter especially in the shows two big acrobatically-enhanced ensemble numbers "Kansasland" and "In the Same Boat #2."Standout within the ensemble is Anne Horak who plays Bambi the producer's talented but constantly demeaned daughter. But you can really depend upon the entire company, under the spirited direction of Mark S. Hoebee, to collectively keep you laughing and applauding. By the end of the show when the entire company is reprising "A Tough Act to Follow,"you'll know what that means.
Just as the company of Robbin Hood is determined that their show become a hit despite the odds, the Curtain company is betting on you having a fine time watching someone get away with murder . . . to music.
For Curtainup's review of the show when it opened on Broadway which also includes a review of the California premiere and a song list. go here.
Slings & Arrows-the complete set
You don't have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to love all 21 episodes of this hilarious and moving Canadian TV series about a fictional Shakespeare Company