Book: Rupert Holmes
Music: Fred Ebb
Director: Paul Foster
Curtains opens on the play-within-a-play, Robbin Hood which puts on the worst possible opening night; the leading lady kills the show with a terrible performance and then somehow actually dies onstage during the bows. Enter Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Jason Manford) of the Boston PD, who just so happens to adore musical theatre, to investigate the cast and crew, and fill in on stage, of course.
The premise is a step by step old-fashioned murder mystery full of twists and turns which just about knit together and a slightly muddled cast with minor characters disappearing into the melee. The murder mystery is not the point of the show, however; it’s merely the setting. The show at its heart is about theatre itself, and its one-liners levelled directly at theatre folk land every time.
Manford walks a careful line between the hardboiled detective searching for a killer and the excitable theatre fan desperate to be a part of the world, giving both sides of his character elements of depth and comedy that follow Cioffi throughout his exploits. While Manford may once have been known for his stand-up comedy, his recent runs in musical theatre are evident here as he shows off his vocal range alongside his comedic timing. There is also a strong cast surrounding him, with Curtains being a real ensemble piece but Rebecca Lock as Carmen Bernstein and Samuel Holmes as Christopher Belling really stealing the spotlight. Their combination of wit, dry humour, and sarcastic quips keep the audience laughing throughout, and their comedic timings keep the show from getting too bogged down in the extended musical numbers.
The cast show their true strengths particularly in their ensemble musical numbers in which Alistair David’s choreography is delivered with precision and takes on the big production style and quality of a West-End show; never more visible than in Thataway. The sets (David Woodhead) and costume (Gabriella Slade) seamlessly add to this sense, with the design created for simple and barely noticeable changes.
The only real downside is that the script itself is not as strong as those performing it. The pacing loses itself on occasion, with a few too many songs to give the mystery a sense of urgency; perhaps cutting some of the less memorable ones and reducing the excessive run time would have paid off here. Overall, however, this homage both to the detective narrative and to theatre itself brings a West-End quality to a touring production; make sure you don’t miss opening curtain.
Runs until 15 Feb 2020