EmptyAl Hirschfeld Theatre, New York
Representing one of the final collaborations between John Kander and the late Fred Ebb, "Curtains" is the sort of old-fashioned musical that could well have been written in 1959, the year in which it's set. A combination backstage comedy and whodunit murder mystery, the show lacks the greatness of many of the composing duo's previous efforts ("Cabaret," "Chicago"), but it has enough fizzy fun to make it a serious contender for Broadway hit status, especially with stars David Hyde Pierce and Debra Monk offering terrific, crowd-pleasing performances.
Featuring a book by Rupert Holmes -- the late Peter Stone ("1776") is credited with "original book and concept" -- the show is set in a Boston theater where a terrible musical called "Robbin' Hood!" is in the midst of its pre-Broadway tryout. On opening night, the inept leading lady (Jessica Cranshaw) collapses and dies during her curtain calls. Turns out she's been poisoned, and, according to Lt. Frank Cioffi (Hyde Pierce), the trench coat-wearing detective who's here to investigate, the entire cast, crew and creative team are suspects.
While the gumshoe proceeds with his investigation, the show struggles to get itself back into shape before being re-reviewed by the Boston Globe's snarky drama critic (John Bolton). Eagerly helping with the process is Cioffi, who is utterly stagestruck and who quickly develops a reciprocal infatuation with one of the actresses (Jill Paice) in the cast.
"Curtains" presents a gallery of fun, stereotypical characters, all played with delicious gusto. They include the profane, hard-boiled producer (Monk); the writers (Karen Ziemba and Jason Danieley), whose collaboration was once romantic; the egotistical director (Edward Hibbert); the sexpot understudy (Megan Sikora) desperate to get her big break, and so on.
The score offers few memorable songs, but many of the numbers are quite fun, including "What Kind of Man," which hilariously skewers theater critics; the sublimely goofy "Thataway"; and the self-reflective "Show People." In general, Ebb's lyrics (Kander and Holmes also contributed) are more memorable than the melodies, but the songs are more than bouncy enough to get by.
Holmes' joke-laden book, which mines every cliche of the genres it spoofs, offers more than its share of groaners and won't garner any comparisons to Noel Coward. But it does get the job done, garnering consistent laughs with both its vulgar one-liners (Monk scores with a series of wisecracks about her husband's sexual inadequacies) and numerous sight gags.
Director Scott Ellis provides a suitably antic tone to the proceedings, which includes such clever touches as having the conductor incorporated into the action at one point. Tech credits are first-rate, with Anna Louizos' costumes and William Ivey Long's sets entertainingly filling their double duties for the backstage action and the Western-themed show within a show.
Presented by Roger Berlind, Roger Horchow, Daryl Roth, Jane Bergere, Ted Hartley and Center Theatre Group
Book: Rupert Holmes
Original book and concept: Peter Stone
Music: John Kander
Lyrics: Fred Ebb
Additional lyrics: John Kander, Rupert Holmes
Director: Scott Ellis
Choreographer: Rob Ashford
Set designer: Anna Louizos
Costume designer: William Ivey Long
Lighting designer: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound designer: Brian Ronan
Lt. Frank Cioffi: David Hyde Pierce
Carmen Bernstein: Debra Monk
Georgia Hendricks: Karen Ziemba
Aaron Fox: Jason Danieley
Niki Harris: Jill Paice
Christopher Belling: Edward Hibbert
Daryl Grady: John Bolton
Johnny Harmon: Michael X. Martin
Oscar Shapiro: Michael McCormick
Bobby Pepper: Noah Racey
Sidney Bernstein: Ernie Sabella
Bambi Bernet: Megan Sikora