Sunday, March 20, 2011
The musical itself doesn’t impress but the actors in “Curtains” do their best...
Carmen Bernstein Jackie Coco
I recently attended production of “Curtains” currently being performed at the Arlington Friends of the Drama. I had never heard much of the music but was familiar with Fred Kander and John Ebb, the composers of the music, having created such memorable musicals such as Chicago and Cabaret, just to name a few. The book was written Peter Stone and Rupert Holmes. Though Stone I was not familiar with, Holmes is best known for with “Escape” for all those Pina Colada lovers out there, as well as “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” for everyone else. As for the show itself, I never went beyond the Wikipedia article so this was going to be a new experience all together.
The show takes place in 1959, at the Colonial Theater in Boston, MA where a new musical, Robbin’ Hood (a western version of Robin Hood) is reaching its end, creating a musical within a musical. The cast finishes up its Finale and once the bows begin marking the end of the show, their leading lady, Jessica Cranshaw, collapses. Soon, learning more about our players in this production, we discover that the fading leading lady was not only poisoned and killed, but everyone in the company could care less. Enter Lt. Frank Cioffi, who reveals Jessica was actually murdered. He takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of this zany mystery to uncover the truth in a theater company full of suspects. Various characters’ backgrounds are revealed and new subplots are introduced. We learn that is more to this story than your run of the mill whodunit.
The show itself is reasonably new, having played on Broadway in 2007, but is not at all that memorable or breaking any new ground as a musical. A bit far from traditional Kander and Ebb, the show never really sticks with you afterward and feels a bit long and drawn out. You can almost feel the actors energies dwindling by the end. However, this does not take away from a few key performances in this production. Heather Darrow plays Nikki Harris, a sweet and smart actress who plays in the company who understudies for the lead. Darrow plays her with a nice bubbly appearance without overdoing it, creating a fun and enjoyable character caught up in the mess of this murder mystery. She also has the pipes and the dancing to boot, creating a very impressive triple threat. In another strong performance, John Pease plays the flamboyant director Christopher Belling, with utter snarkiness and class who doesn’t have to try too hard for a laugh. His strong delivery of each joke is neither forced or out of place. He manages to channel that person who is not only sincere in his compliments and insults, but he is extremely committed to the character. His commanding demeanor is definitely something not to be missed.
The ensemble carries it own through a strongly choreographed show. Having multiple costume changes and all sorts of different styles, they manage to make the most challenging move look easy. They represent a strong backbone in many of the group numbers, particularly a great usage of their hats and chairs during “Thataway” at the end of the first act.
Costumers Linda Burtt, Kimmerie Jones and Tracy Wall had created some wonderful pieces, dressing the actors in wonderful and soft colors, capturing the western feel as well as the period of the 1950s in which the show took place. The actors looked comfortable and their colors complimented each other nicely. I particularly loved the dresses the women got to wear, especially in the dresses in opening and finale during Robbin’ Hood.
Ron Dion's set is simple and surprisingly quick to change over. The set was limited, other than the depiction of backstage and later various places where Robbin’ Hood took place. Each were painted beautifully and the illusion was created nicely. However, in the 2nd act, a very impressive moving set piece makes its debut and I wished that it had its own curtain call. (You have to see it for yourself.)
Though, at many times, I feared for the lives of the orchestra, who were placed in the front row of the house as actors moved up and down the stage. The show size was overwhelming for such a small space and much of the choreography seemed ambitious. The stage during the bigger dance numbers felt cluttered and sometimes cramped. One particular number, “Show People” was strong in voice and dance, but felt like the actors didn’t have a lot of room to do their thing. The music and book for the show as I mentioned are not very well crafted and often seemed generic. I didn’t walk away humming any tunes and wished there was more meat in the score. The story feels like a it was taken from various other shows never going beyond your basic plot of crazy characters put in an unlikely situation. The actors are not to blame for this lack of substance in writing and composing. All in all the actors manage to do their best in this less than amazing show.