Book: Peter Stone & Rupert Holmes
Music & Lyrics: John Kander & Fred Ebb
Director: Paul Foster
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
The easiest way to describe the concept of Curtains is that it is a cross between Kiss Me Kate and an Agatha Christie whodunnit (Kill Me Kate?). A murder investigation takes place backstage at a production of a western-themed musical version of Robin Hood where the bodies pile up, blackmail is rife, the cast and crew are at each other’s throats and everyone is a suspect. Admittedly it all seems a lot to take in, but the script deftly juggles the various threads to present what is an unashamedly old fashioned, often hilarious and always entertaining piece of theatrical magic.
Originally staged in 2006 shortly after lyricist Fred Ebb (who along with John Kander had previously created the classic scores to Cabaret and Chicago) had passed away, the history of Curtains has been a chequered one. However, this is not at all apparent in the production, which is a dazzling ode to show business while also presenting a genuinely puzzling murder mystery (no spoilers here as to the identity of the murderer).
Jason Manford heads up a superb and impressively large cast playing Lt. Frank Cioffi, the detective assigned to investigate the murder and who insists that the theatre is locked down in order to keep all of the suspects together. Comedian Manford has carved himself a respectable career in musical theatre lately and he manages the deceptively difficult role of Cioffi extremely well: bouncing from hardboiled detective to theatrical fan-boy brilliantly while also displaying a lovely pure singing voice and decent dancing skills. His comic abilities are also used quite subtly to generate some big laughs.
The rest of the cast are equally excellent with standouts including Samuel Holmes as Christopher Belling the acerbic British director who gets most of the best one-liners, Rebecca Lock as the offensively blunt producer Carmen Berstein whose number It’s a Business stops the show, and Emma Caffrey as the air-headed ingénue Bambi. Also bursting with talent are Andy Coxon and Carley Stenson as the once-married songwriting team behind Robbin’ Hood and Martin Callaghan as the jovial backer Oscar. The beauty of Curtains is that it is very much an ensemble piece, allowing everyone their chance to shine in their roles however small: something every single cast member does with aplomb.
The show itself is very good if not entirely perfect. It has some pacing issues, perhaps a few too many songs and although the score is great, none of the numbers are overly memorable. However, none of these minor flaws are too apparent due to the enthusiasm and talent of the cast as well as the very strong and amusing direction of Paul Foster, the often athletic choreography of Alistair David, David Woodhead’s perfectly evocative sets and Tim Mitchell’s beautiful lighting design. This is a relatively modern musical that is a love letter to the classic shows that it often references and although it offers a great night out for everyone, theatre fans and insiders are sure to find it particularly rewarding and funny.
And despite devoting an entire song to how awful theatrical critics are, this particular critic will still heartily recommend Curtains. In the finale the entire cast sings a song entitled A Tough Act to Follow, and after enjoying their company for two and a half hours it’s impossible to argue with that.
Runs until 16 November 2019 | Image: Richard Davenport