Kander and Ebb are best known for Cabaret and Chicago. Curtains opened on Broadway only 12 years ago but has never reached the heights of its hit predecessors.
The story is set entirely in a Boston theatre and takes the show-within-the-show format. It also encompasses a whodunnit as the truly terrible leading lady is murdered on stage on the opening night of a new musical. Detective Frank Cioffi, a big musical theatre fan, is sent to investigate. Can he solve the murder and save the show in the process?
This is an entertaining romp of a musical. It opens with the finale of the ‘Oklahoma!’ style show within the show. The leading lady faints as she bows and the curtains close. When the curtains reopen the stage has cleverly reversed and the audience is now at the rear of the stage watching the cast bow upstage.
When they hear that the leading lady has died in hospital the cast sing a rather irreverent song about her lack of talent. Ebb’s lyrics are very witty and the show is also peppered with some very funny lines.
Enter Detective Cioffi, who says it is a murder and that nobody may leave the theatre. This gives the cast time to rehearse the show within the show which needs rewriting with a new leading lady. Jason Manford is an engaging Cioffi, who relishes the role. His Boston accent is consistent, his comic timing is excellent (as you would expect from a very good stand-up comedian) and his singing and dancing are certainly good enough for the role.
All the leading actors played their parts very well, there are no weak links in this production. Carley Stenson was impressive as the cynical producer Georgia Hendricks and she owned the stage with her larger than life performance. Ore Oduba as composer Aaron Fox gave the most naturalistic performance of the night. His solo ‘I Miss the Music’ was sung with real warmth and was a musical highlight. Rebecca Lock as lyricist/new leading lady Carmen Bernstein was in fine voice. Emma Caffrey showcased her considerable dancing skill as Bambi Bernét. Samuel Holmes gave a very entertaining performance as sardonic British director Christopher Belling – and he had all the best lines too.
The real entertainment in this show is the intricate whodunnit plot. As a second character is murdered by hanging (going up as the curtain to end Act 1 comes down) the audience is also in suspense. While the show within the show set pieces were performed excellently, they felt very much like fillers as they did not add much to the solving of the murders. And when a show doesn’t end until 10.30pm, it is not in need of any fillers. The backstage songs and scenes are always more interesting, even though they do not have the spectacle of the show numbers. It’s amusing to watch Manford come up with improvements to the show as he works on his case but a bit incongruous that they should be immediately accepted every time. The musical numbers were very well done but there are no real hits in the score, you don’t leave the theatre humming any of the songs.
Overall, though, this is a really entertaining night at the theatre with some truly impressive ensemble performances. The audience was full and appreciative.
Curtains continues at the Lyceum Theatre from 30 October to 2 November at 7.45pm with matinees at 2pm on Thursday and 3pm on Saturday.