It’s a ‘whodunnit’, and as is usually the case with murder mysteries, the audience is kindly asked not to reveal who did do ‘it’. I’ve argued over the years that it wouldn’t make much difference to someone who hasn’t seen a murder mystery production, particularly if they have no intention of seeing it anyway. For example, let’s say ‘Sheila’ killed someone (there is no ‘Sheila’ in Curtains: A Musical Whodunnit). So what? Who is Sheila? Why should I care? And so on. But I suppose it is, in the end, better to keep faith with these productions. Suffice to say that I failed to work out who the culprits were in this show.
There are gags aplenty, some of which left me distinctly unimpressed (some seem to go back to the days of the Carry On film series). The best punchlines, despite Jason Manford headlining the cast as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi, are given to Christopher Belling (Samuel Holmes, whose split-second comic timing was exquisite), the sharp-tongued British director of the American cast of a production called ‘Robbin’ Hood’, which becomes the musical within the musical. This ‘Robbin’ Hood’, however, is far from Sherwood Forest, set instead in Kansas, complete with cowboy costumes and dance routines. The show is doing a Boston run, and press night resulted in largely unfavourable views, including one which told its readership, “If you love ‘Oklahoma!’ stay there [and don’t bother coming over to Boston to see this terrible show]”.
Curtains was still in development when Fred Ebb (of Kander and Ebb fame) passed away in 2004. The musical numbers are not, for the most part, particularly memorable, except perhaps for ‘In The Same Boat’ because of several ‘rewrites’ in the rehearsal period of ‘Robbin’ Hood’, and the self-explanatory ‘The Woman’s Dead’. The nine-strong band led by Alex Beetschen glides through the sometimes-soaring melodies seemingly effortlessly.
There are plenty of references to life in the theatre which will be appreciated best by frequent patrons. Nothing is off-limits – the characters’ treatment of critics is comically hypocritical, with personal attacks and character stains doled out towards those who didn’t enjoy ‘Robbin’ Hood’, and an almost deification of those critics who were more favourable. Carmen Bernstein (Rebecca Lock) is delightful as the forthright producer of ‘Robbin’ Hood’, with Jessica Cranshaw (Nia Jermin) being one of those big star names who can’t actually sing brought in as a ‘bums on seats’ person, given the lead role until such times as, ahem, events (as in, ‘events, dear boy, events’) prevent her from seeing out the rest of the show’s run.
The problem is this: rather like in 42nd Street, the storyline comes to a standstill to allow a song-and-dance to take place. But 42nd Street has such a large cast the scale and spectacle of it all is borderline mind-blowing. Here, it just gets a bit too repetitive, and frankly, boring – although tell that to the man in the row behind me who chortled so much that I found myself missing bits of consequent spoken dialogue because of his loud guffaws.
Alas, it is not a ‘must see’ production, and as Manford pointed out in a post-show discussion, it is rare in being a (relatively) new musical that isn’t a jukebox musical or an adaptation of a film. The cast do their best with what they’re given, but this is neither Kander and Ebb’s Chicago nor their Cabaret. The show is also a tad too long (I agree with Sir Tim Rice who asserts that musicals should not exceed two-and-a-half hours, even if he broke his own guideline with From Here to Eternity, which came in at about two hours and forty-five minutes). While sufficiently enjoyable – just about – this is a show for fans of the musical theatre genre more than anyone else. I really can’t see it winning new converts.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.