Cur­tains lacks satir­i­cal, sharp edge

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&e - GARY SMITH Gary Smith has writ­ten on the­atre and dance for The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor for more than 35 years gsmith1@co­ Spe­cial to The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor

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.”

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