Curtains lacks satirical, sharp edge
John Kander and Fred Ebb created several musicals that belong to the iconography of Broadway. “Cabaret,” “Chicago” and “The Visit” come instantly to mind.
Unfortunately, “Curtains” isn’t in the same league. A troubled show, it opened on Broadway in 2007 and limped through half a season.
Sadly, it hasn’t found new life in Drury Lane’s lacklustre production that misses the satire intended in Peter Stone and Rupert Holmes’ script.
What ought to be a glorious send-up of so many cheesy 1950s Broadway musicals is played here without the lethal comedy and tough attack the show demands.
“Curtains” limps along from tiresome musical number to tiresome plot contrivance without style or imagination. There are too many songs that are merely decorative rather than numbers that advance the plot and define characters. Mostly these numbers look messy and undernourished in untidy staging.
To work, “Curtains” would require larger-than-life performances with an edge that is sharp and satirical. Instead, what we get is unbelievable chorus folk trying to make kick-lines and indifferent harmonies attractive.
A great deal of the time the cast stands about the periphery of the action, like voyeurs parked round the edges of a bare stage. Since they are seldom integrated into the show, we don’t know who they are or what they’re doing onstage.
The music is unmemorable and disappointing and though there are admittedly some comic lyrics, there is nothing arresting about the score.
“Curtains” sits nicely with other Kander and Ebb flop shows, like “Steel Pier,” “70 Girls 70” and “The Happy Time.” Nothing much is helped here by indifferent singing that is sometimes harsh and unmusical.
The songs are sadly unmemorable and I doubt you’ll exit humming “The Woman’s Dead,” “Thataway” or “Kansasland.”
To be blunt, for a community theatre like Drury Lane, “Curtains” was a very iffy choice.
A 1950s-themed Whodunit, it demands the sort of lavish sets and costumes musicals of that era defined. In Greg Flis and Calvin Cox’s settings, there’s little suggestion we’re watching a production on its way to Broadway. There’s little colour and too often scenes are played against a black drape that provides little atmosphere.
Jen Newnham’s costumes are a mishmash of periods and styles and Chris Belton’s lighting fails to suggest the seductive world of backstage.
The show program, though filled with pictures and notes about the local actors involved, doesn’t bother to tell us the show’s 1959 time frame. More seriously, it doesn’t give us names of the show’s New York creators, or licensing company.
The title “Curtains,” a cunning play on words, reminds us that in the theatre the curtain rises to reveal the world of the play. But it also refers in showbiz parlance to cashing in your chips.
We’re on the stage of a Boston theatre where a perfectly dreadful musical called “Robbin Hood” is trying out before its New York engagement.
When talentless leading lady (Kathleen Reilley) is murdered opening night, in walks musical-comedy loving cop Lieutenant Cioffi (an affable Brian Vaughan). We quickly learn he would rather sing a show tune than track a murderer.
Archetypes of musical theatre turn up everywhere. There’s Georgia the lyricist and would-be star (Sara Laux), Carmen, the aggressive producer (Lynne Scott), Niki, the understudy with a yen for romance (Aramenta Sobchak).
And there’s Bobby (David Osborne) the dancer with a broken heart and “Robbin Hood’s” smart-mouthed director (Michael Newsome). Along with chorus members Barb Osborne and Sean Cottrell these folks standout in a large cast that struggles to make “Curtains” more than simply predictable.
Director Greg Flis, saddled with a weak show, hasn’t quite ignited the necessary spark that would make “Curtains” rise like Lazarus. The corny jokes, sketchy characters and skimpy production values conspire to give the show a tentative look and feel.
Even if it were gloriously produced, which it isn’t here, “Curtains” would never be a Kander and Ebb show to cheer.
It has no edge, no wildly beating heart and no characters you can root for. I wish that it did.
Brian Vaughan plays Lt. Frank Gioffi and Aramenta Sobchak plays Niki Harris in Drury Lane’s production of “Curtains.”