Written by: Jill Podolsky
Curtains, the last musical collaboration between Kander and Ebb (Fred Ebb died of a heart attack in 2004 before Curtains was finished) felt like a combination of Noises Off; an Agatha Christie murder mystery (Mousetrap, maybe?) and just the tiniest bit of The Producers. Noises Off because of all the backstage drama, Mousetrap because it’s a murder mystery and The Producers because it’s also about a failed play that the cast and crew are trying to improve. I’ve seen other Kander and Ebb shows Cabaret and Chicago (including a 90-minute version written by John Kander especially for Royal Caribbean’s mega cruise ship Allure of the Seas). This was my least favorite of the three, but still enjoyable.
The basic premise of the show is that a theatre company is working on a new musical comedy in Boston, which they hope will move to Broadway and be a big hit. It’s set in 1959 and the show within the show is called Robbin’ Hood, set in the old, wild west. Side note—the theatre lobby was very cute and had posters in it for Robbin’ Hood which was fun. Robbin’ Hood stars an actress who used to be good, but isn’t anymore. She’s got the “name” but has lost the talent. In part because of her lack of talent and in part because of the writing, the play is a disaster and most of the “audience” (shown on the screen at the back of the stage as empty theatre seats) has left the show. She becomes the butt of many of the jokes going forward. One story line is how to fix the show to make it appropriate for Broadway. Then a murder occurs and Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (played by the excellent Ryan Drummond) enters. He’s there to solve the murder, but, as it turns out, he’s a lover of theatre, and so also works to solve the “murder of the integrity of musical theatre,” to quote Robbin’ Hood’s director, played by the formidable Walter M. Mayes (who delivers many of the show’s best lines hysterically).
While many of the songs weren’t memorable for me, there were some that were fun—“The Woman’s Dead” (which then gets sung after each murder) and, “She Did It” (where they use flashlights for a cool effect) were two that stood out for me.
This was opening night and there were some bugs to work out—the sound had issues—for instance, one time when there were actors whispering in a group at the rear of the stage, their mics overpowered the people who were at the front and were supposed to be the center of attention. Tyler Risk, who played Carmen Bernstein, was good and showed great sarcasism, but many of her lines were lost or swallowed, so although she seemed like she had funny lines, there were times the audience didn’t respond because we couldn’t really hear them. Alicia Teeter (Georgia Hendricks), was beautiful and sang well. Her love story with Michael Rhone, whose voice was phenomenal, was extremely believeable.
Because the normal theatre for these musicals, the Smithwick Theatre, is closed for construction, the production was in the very initimate Lohman Theatre. Lohman is a great venue and a beautiful theatre, but this show seemed squeezed into it. This show is huge—big cast, lots of actors, and probably would normally have big sets—here they used a screen at the back of the stage that had changing pictures to depict various rooms the characters were in. I thought this was a creative and cute way to deal with the space. One thing I didn’t really like is that the orchestra was backstage and was never seen. In addition full cast dances almost ended up in the audience and, as the lights were coming up for intermission, the actors were still exiting the stage.
The overall pacing felt slow to me, including during some of the dance numbers. I don’t know if that was due to opening night, or whether it was a result of the small space (it might be because the orchestra was backstage and the actors couldn’t see and interact with them), but it did feel a bit slow to me and the show runs about two hours and 45 minutes.
All that said, though, I walked out with a smile on my face. The very diverse cast was great—good acting and high energy, the singing and dancing good, the costumes beautiful and there were some really funny, laugh out loud lines. For example, because none of the cast/crew could leave the theatre due to the murder investigation, when the detective entered a room, the director said to him, “Welcome to your very own marathon production of ‘No Exit’.” And when he was talking about a particular piece of music, the director said, “That’s catchier than pink eye!”
The show is running at the Lohman Theatre at Foothill College, through Sunday, August 14.