by Macey Levin
From the mid-60’s into the 21st century John Kander and Fred Ebb were major figures in Broadway theatres. Their notable musicals include Cabaret (1966), Zorba (1968) Chicago (1975) Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993) among many others. Curtains (2007) was their last show but it was incomplete at the time of Ebb’s death in 2004. Kander and Rupert Holmes completed the lyrics and Holmes also finished the book. It received eight Tony nominations, including best musical. The only award was given to David Hyde Pierce as best actor in a musical. The show, currently at the Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham, New York, is very entertaining.
Curtains is an homage to show business Show People adds to the litany of songs that glorify the stage such as There’s No Business Like Show Business from Annie Get Your Gun. But the show is much more light-hearted than Annie… as it is replete with puns, double entendres and predictable but still funny laugh lines. Also, several of the characters are caricatures. All of this works within the spirit of the show which is something of a throwback to the musicals pre-Oklahoma! Indeed, there are allusions to Oklahoma!, Annie Get Your Gun, 42nd Street and the little known Destry Rides Again.
Taking place in 1959 at the Colonial Theatre in Boston, a new musical entitled Robbin’ Hood is having its first out-of-town tryout. At the curtain call the inept and highly disliked leading lady Jessica Cranshaw (Erin Spears Ledford) is murdered. Boston police detective Frank Cioffi (Colin Pritchard) leads the investigation. Because it is a murder scene, everyone involved in the production is confined to the theatre. This includes the producer Carmen Bernstein (Monica Wemitt) the director Christopher Belling (Gabe Belyeu) Georgia Hendricks (Leigh Martha Klinger) the lyricist, the composer who is also her estranged husband Aaron Fox (Steve Hassmer) the major investor Oscar Shapiro (Nick Miller) and an ingenue Niki Harris (Rachel Pantazis). As he tries to solve the case, Cioffi, who is enamored of the theatre, offers a critique and then direction on how to improve the show, which is about to close before it ever leaves Boston.
In addition to the search for the killer there are several concurrent sub-plots. Cioffi and Niki find they are more than attracted to each other; Georgia and Aaron have problems to overcome within their professional and married lives; Carmen and her daughter Bambi (Chelsea Lynne Myers) are in conflict. Eventually, there are twists to each of these story lines.
But, it is a musical and though the music isn’t as compelling as that of Cabaret or Chicago, much heavier shows, there are several numbers that are either touching or simply fun. Thinking of Him sung by Georgia and I Miss the Music by Aaron are wistful melodies with sensitive lyrics while Cioffi’s Coffee Shop Nights is rueful and pensive. What Kind of Man is an upbeat diatribe directed at critics and The Woman’s Dead, sung by the principals and ensemble, is a hoot. Numbers from Robbin’ Hood – Wide Open Spaces, Kansasland and Thataway – are performed with exuberance and get the feet tapping. The principals’ voices are strong, though Pritchard’s voice as Cioffi is closer to the delivery of Rex Harrison’s in My Fair Lady, it fits the character.
The show is directed and choreographed by Courtney Laine Self. Given the strictures of Mac-Haydn’s small theatre-in-the round stage, she has moved the production fluidly utilizing the aisles and the dialogue scenes have effective stage pictures. The big dance numbers are well- defined and ebullient while the more intimate dance scenes are beautifully toned.
Though many of the characters are stereotypes they are given strong characterizations by the actors. Pritchard’s Cioffi is reminiscent of Peter Falk’s Colombo, the seemingly simple and endearing detective. He is all business while sleuthing or giving his opinions and flirting with and then romancing Niki, sweetly played by Ms. Pantazis. Carmen Bernstein, the tough producer, is made likable in Wemitt’s strong acting and powerful voice. The director, Chris Belling, is an overly fey caricature played by Gabe Belyou, who at times seems to be working too hard. Klinger and Hassmer as the married composing team Georgia and Aaron, as well as Oscar the investor are the most realistic of the principals, allowing us to develop an empathetic relationship with them. The members of the ensemble, and there are a lot of them, fit into the various numbers and scenes with discipline and gusto. The four-piece orchestra led by Bruce DeLaCruz artfully supports the actors and the underscoring.
Given the configuration of MacHaydn’s playing areas, designer Erin Kiernan’s sets are minimal and serve the show’s milieu. Andrew Gmoser’s lighting enhances the atmosphere for each scene. The costumes by Jimm Halliday help to define the characters.
The Mac-Haydn is a true summer stock theatre with its low-key comfortable ambiance, its all-musicals programming, and the combination of Equity and non-Equity performers. They usually put on a terrific show and this one is just that. It is simply marvelous fun.
CURTAINS Book by Rupert Holmes, Music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebb; Original Book and Concept by Peter Stone; Additional Lyrics by John Kander and Rupert Holmes; Directed and Choreographed by Courtney Laine Self; Cast: Colin Pritchard (Frank Cioffi) Monica Wemitt (Carmen Bernstein) Rachel Pantazis (Niki Harris) Leigh Martha Klinger (Georgia Hendricks) Steve Hassmer (Aaron Fox) Todd Fenstermaker (Sidney Bernstein) Chelsea Lynne Meyers (Bambi Bernet) George Phelps (Daryl Grady) Dakota Dutcher (Johnny Harmon) Nick Miller (Oscar Shapiro) Jonah Hale (Bobby Pepper) Erin Spears Ledford (Jessica Cranshaw) Bruce DeLaCruz (Sasha Iljinsky) Gino Cardoni (Randy Dexter) Angie Colonna (Mona Page) Kylan Ross (Harv Fremont) Madi Cupp-Enyard (Roberta Wooster) Jesse Lynn Harte (Majorie Cook) Emma Flynn (Arlene Barucca) DeShaun Tost (Roy Stetson) Joe Hornberger (Brick Hawvermale) Anthony DaSilva (Ronnie Driscoll) Maya Cuevas (Peg Prentice/Wardrobe) Elizabeth D’Aiuto (Connie Subbotin) Spencer Petro (Russ Cochran/Stagehand) Sam Seleznow (Detective O’Farrell/Stagehand) Associate Choreographer: Theresa Alexander; Music Director: Bruce DeLaCruz; Associate Music Director: Blake Dylan Pilger; Costume Design: Jimm Halliday; Scenic Design: Erin Kiernan; Lighting Design: Andrew Gmoser; Stage Manager: Eoghan Hartley; Hair and Makeup Design: Matthew Oliver; Props Master: Joshua Gallagher; Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes; one intermission; 6/6/19 – 6/16/19; Mac-Haaydn Theatre, 1925 Route 203, Chatham, New York; 518-392-9292; http://www.machaydntheate.org