Kander and Ebb’s final musical collaboration opened on Broadway two years after Fred Ebb’s death, and garnered rave reviews for its leading man, David Hyde Pierce. This UK production of Curtains has been enjoying a successful tour and finds itself at the Wyndham’s Theatre for an unusually short run, filling a gap left by the early closing The Man in The White Suit.
Ironically, Curtains itself relies on a flop to tell its story, this musical ‘whodunnit’ is a backstage murder mystery set in 1950’s Boston. It’s the opening night of Robbin’ Hood and the untalented leading lady is murdered during the curtain call. Enter Lieutenant Frank Cioffi, who in true murder mystery style keeps all his suspects in the theatre overnight in an attempt to identify the killer. Cioffi also happens to be a lover of the theatre, and as well as solving the crime, sets about saving the show, and even finding himself a love interest along the way.
Curtains, is more Jessica Fletcher than Hercule Poirot, making it that most endearing of cosy murder mystery comedies, one where the audience can join in trying to solve the murder (I got it wrong) while laughing at the same time. There is fact an episode of Murder, She Wrote set in a Broadway theatre, where the company of a new play are suspects in the shooting of a particularly cruel critic, Curtains also takes aim at the critics, and producers, and directors, and performers! Perhaps it is mere coincidence that only the composer and lyricist (wonderfully played by Carly Stetson and Andy Coxon) seem to escape any kind of scrutiny.
Rupert Holmes book works best when we are seeing ‘backstage’ and the dynamics between the various players in the industry are laid bare, with plenty of in-jokes to boot. The production feels less engaging when we are watching scenes from the show-within-a-show, sometimes feeling overly contrived and occasionally dragging on for too long. It is however, in the scenes from Robbin’ Hood that we get the majority of the big song and dance numbers, showing off Alistair David’s sparkling choreography.
As on Broadway, Curtains provides an opportunity to showcase its leading man, in this case Jason Manford who perfectly captures the loneliness of the affable Cioffi, while giving him the authority to be believable as an officer of the law. Leah Barbara West as Niki interacts well with Manford, and Rebecca Lock is wonderfully over the top as Carmen Bernstein.
Some of the best lines of the whole show are delivered by Samuel Holmes as the demanding director Christopher Belling, “let’s have a minute’s silence. To match the audience reaction to her opening number” is just one of the corkers that Holmes delivers with impeccable timing.
Curtains is undeniably jolly good fun, combining the best elements of a ‘whodunnit’ with the glitz and glamour of showbiz, it’s just a shame that it can’t stay in the West End a little longer where it would undoubtedly receive the recognition it deserves.