Curtains – The Palace Theatre
Music: John Kander
Lyrics: Fred Ebb
Book: Rupert Holmes
Director: Paul Foster
Originally reviewed on behalf of Opening Night.
We’ve all heard of opening night disasters when it comes to the theatre, from forgotten lines to sickly cast members, I’m sure actors and directors will have their fair share of horror stories. However, I’m sure none will match having their leading lady bumped off during the final curtain!
This is the premise for musical whodunit, Curtains. This Tony Awarding winning production is from the song writing duo John Kander and Fred Ebb, who also wrote Chicago and Cabaret. Set in 1950’s Boston we are backstage on the set of troubled Broadway hopeful Robbin Hood. Leading lady Jessica Cranshaw (Nia Jermin) is murdered on opening night and, due to her rather shambolic performance, everyone is a suspect. Luckily, Boston’s finest, Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Jason Manford), who happens to be a theatre super-fan, is on hand to crack the case.
Placing the theatre on lock down, Cioffi begins to work his way through the list of suspects that include estranged couple and writing partners Georgia Hendricks (Carley Stenson) and Aaron Fox (Ore Oduba). Then there are show producers Carmen Bernstein (Rebecca Lock) and shady Sidney Bernstein (Mark Sangster), flamboyant director Christopher Belling (Samuel Holmes). In addition, we have ambitious rising stars, Bambi Barnét (Emma Caffrey) and Niki Harris (Leah West), with the latter catching the eye of Lieutenant Cioffi. Everyone is a suspect and cast and crew begin to drop like flies, can Cioffi catch the killer and save the show?
On the surface, this is a classic murder mystery, very much in the Agatha Christie mould, but on the other hand this is both a love letter to and a critique of show business, in particular the theatre: there are caricatures aplenty from over-the-top directors, to ruthless money grabbing producers and mean spirited critiques. Despite a few minor issues, this is an enjoyable, entertaining romp, filled with neat one liners, catchy tunes and some plot red herrings that will keep you engaged throughout.
The cast are at the top of their game, Jason Manford is a likeable leading man, whose comic timing is matched perfectly with a fine singing voice. Carley Stenson and Ore Oduba are also on good form as the warring writing partnership, with Stenson really given the opportunity to flex her vocal cords. There are scene stealing turns from Rebecca Lock and Samuel Holmes who between them get the lions share of the best lines and certainly make the most of them.
They are supported buy an exceptionally hard working cast who put in tremendous effort throughout which are exemplified in the company numbers The Women’s Dead, He Did It, and In the Same Boat III, which are the undoubted highlights of the show, and showcase Paul Foster’s exceptional direction and Alistair David’s intricate choreography.
The production is not without flaws; it’s a bit flabby in parts and there seems to be a bit of filler, it doesn’t quite hold your attention throughout its entire running time, in fairness the show gets off to such an intriguing start that it would be difficult to maintain that level of interest throughout.
On the whole this is an entertaining, clever, romp packed with solid performances, great tunes and some fantastic set pieces, which despite its darkly comic narrative has a heart of gold at its core and is a slice of fun feel good musical theatre!
Curtains is on the Place Theatre till 12th October. Tickets Available from: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/curtains/palace-theatre-manchester/