Curtains – Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Book: Rupert Holmes

Lyrics: Fred Ebb

Music: John Kander

Director: Paul Foster

Reviewer: Dan English

Curtains up, or is it? The Jason Manford-fronted musical Curtains is full of fun as it reaches Dartford’s Orchard Theatre ahead of its run in London’s West End.

The premise is reasonably straightforward in this musical murder-mystery mashup. The cast of ‘Robbin Hood’ are begrudgingly preparing for their grand opening when the ultimate horror strikes, and their leading lady Jessica is found murdered. Holmes’ book then weaves its way through deception and intrigue as both murderer and motive struggle to be discovered. The weight of solving the case, and the future of the show, falls on the shoulders of Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Jason Manford), who battles personal aspirations and desires of his own.

Curtains offers moments of genuine hilarity as well as some tender exchanges which both enhance and somewhat jar the atmosphere of the piece. This is an effective sendup of both the murder mystery genre while the play’s meta-construct also gently ribbing the notion of being an actor in such a musical. A particular highlight in emphasising this is The Woman’s Dead, a musical number which successfully pokes fun at being an actor and mourning services. This dark humour sets the tone for this play.

Manford’s delightfully goofy Lieutenant Cioffi strikes the right balance between sincere investigator and clumsy questioner. Cioffi longs for a career on the stage himself and finds himself slide closer and closer towards focusing on being a performer rather than discovering the culprit, and Manford works hard to express the various layers of this character. Manford is commanding in his delivery of both dialogue and music, and his experience of musical theatre shines through in his performance.

Carley Stenson is Georgia Hendricks is the lyricist turned stand-in for the deceased leading lady, apprehensive at returning to the stage after a long time in the wings. Stenson builds Georgia carefully, taking time to present her reluctance to tread the boards before a fantastic end to the first half shows just how good her character, and Stenson, can be.

Alistair David’s choreography is well-executed across this almost three-hour production, delivered superbly by a hardworking and extremely diligent ensemble cast. Curtains shines through at its best when it’s presenting whole cast numbers. It is here especially where the musical heritage of Kander and Ebb becomes obvious, and this production slips seamlessly into West End standard at these moments.

David Woodhead’s set design and Gabriella Slade’s costume designs quickly allow for transitions between backstage and within the musical set within this play, and it is easy to forget that this show is not on a West End stage, such is the quality. It is an impressive design for a touring production, and it is used well to enhance the efforts of those on stage.

That the characters in Curtains place such emphasis on critics could make one wince, but this production needs not worry. This is a fun and entertaining production that provides just enough humour to warrant its almost three-hour running time. The leading stars and ensemble cast combine to present a fresh and fun musical with strong musical numbers.

Curtains is a cleverly crafted musical that keeps audiences guessing, gasping and giggling; a treat.

Runs until Saturday 30th November, then continues tour. | Image: Richard Davenport

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