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A CurtainUp Review

Curtains, like its show within the show, Robbin' Hood of the Old West Makes It to Broadway

Jill Paice, David Hyde Pierce and cast members
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

David Hyde Pierce
David Hyde Pierce in Curtains
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
The Grim Reaper struck John Kander and Fred Ebb's last collaboration, Curtains, as it did the musical within their homage to musical theater and its practitioners. But though the show lost its book writer (Peter Stone) and Lyricist (Ebb), the show-must-go-on spirit prevailed. The book and lyrics were completed with the help of Rupert Holmes, who knows his way around mysteries. A cast that literally screamed "hit" was assembled.

Now that I've seen the Broadway production, I find that not only did Laura Hitchcock's review of the Los Angeles premiere cover all bases but that I agree with most everything she had to say (the review follows these comments and the current production notes). While I rather doubt that these second-tier Kander and Ebb songs will stick to the memory and become the kind of standards celebrated by cabaret performers and Scott Siegel's Broadway By the Year series, Laura picked the most likely (and, for sure, the most enjoyable) candidates.

I would add another prediction. Iff you're not yet a David Hyde Pierce fan you surely will be after you see him as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi. He's abandoned Dr. Niles Frasier's highbrow accent for more Bostonian ahhs and is even droller as the stagestruck crime buster than the uptight Shrink. As the detective assigned to the backstage murder investigation, he not only solves the murder of the unpopular and untalented leading lady (Patty Goble) but rescues producer Carmen Bernstein's (Debra Monk) cheesy western musical from flopdom and wins the heart of the pretty ingenue (Jill Paice). He sings. He dances. He's a true Broadway star. In fact, if the title hadn't already been popularized by the memorable TV series, I'd have named this show The Singing Detective.

My rave about Hyde Pierce's star turn is not intended to underestimate the contributions of the rest of the cast. Debra Monk, who's never given anything less than a knock-em-dead performance, fully deserves her co-star billing. The others all live up to Laura's praises even though their talents also means making the most of the often creaky humor.

While nothing can elevate this second-tier score to the level of the scinitillating thrills of Cabaret and Chicago, orchestrator William David Brohn and musical arranger and orchestra leader David Loud, make everything sound great (with Loud even launching the second and far and away the better act with a song). Rob Ashford, besides his great assist to help Hyde Pierce bring off that wonderful fantasy Gower Champion with just the right touch of awkward charm, has also helped to make this one of the most vibrantly and aptly choreographed shows in town. Anna Louizos' sets (my favorite the amusingly spooky "Who Did It?" number at the top of the second act) , William Ivey Long's costumes and Peter Kaczorowski's lighting provide enough visual razzle dazzle to give Curtains the aura of the sort of musicals that have old timers sighing "They don't make'em like that any more." If you want it all —tunes that are in the shower hummers, a script that's a nonstop dazzler— they don't.

The original review with more details about plot and performances, follows the production notes and song list below.

Book by Rupert Holmes
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Choreographed by Rob Ashford Directed by Scott Ellis
Cast: David Hyde Pierce as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi and Debra Monk as producer Carmen Bernstein; also Karen Ziemba as lyricist Georgia Hendricks, Jason Danieley as composer Aaron Fox, Jill Paice as ingénue Niki Harris and Edward Hibbert as director Christopher Belling, with John Bolton as theatre critic Daryl Grady, Michael X. Martin as stage manager Johnny Harmon, Michael McCormick as investor Oscar Shapiro, Noah Racey as choreographer Bobby Pepper, Ernie Sabella as producer Sidney Bernstein and Megan Sikora as understudy Bambi Bernét.
Ensemble: Ashley Amber (Swing), Nili Bassman (Arlene Barucca), Kevin Bernard (Roy Stetson/Detective O’Farrell), Ward Billeisen (Brick Hawvermale), Paula Leggett Chase, (Marjorie Cook), Jennifer Dunne (Jan Setler), David Eggers (Swing), J. Austin Eyer (Swing), Matt Farnsworth (Harv Fremont), Patty Goble (Jessica Cranshaw/Connie Subbotin), Mary Ann Lamb (Mona Page), David Loud (Sasha Iljinsky), Brittany Marcin (Peg Prentice), Jim Newman (Randy Dexter), Joe Aaron Reid (Ronnie Driscoll), Darcie Roberts (Roberta Wooster), Christopher Spaulding (Russ Cochran), Allison Spratt (Swing) and Jerome Vivona (Swing).
Sets: Anna Louizos
Costumes: William Ivey Long
Lights: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound:Brian Ronan
Orchestrations: William David Brohn
Dance arrangements: David Chase
Music direction and vocal arrangements: David Loud
Wig and hair design: Paul Huntley
Fight direction: Rick Sordelet
Aerial effects: Paul Rubin
Make-up: Angelina Avallone
Associate Choreographer: Joann M. Hunter
Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission
Al Hirschfeld Theatre,302 West 45th Street, 212-239-6200
From 2/22/07; opening 3/22.
Tuesday-Saturday at 8:00 PM, with matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00 PM, and Sunday at 3:00 PM. Starting March 27th, Tuesday evening performances will be at 7:00 PM
Tickets: $61.50-$111.50
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Wide Open Spaces Randy. Niki, Jessica, Bobby, Ensemble
  • What Kind of Man?/Carmen, Oscar, Aaron, Georgia
  • Thinking of Him/ Georgia, Aaron, Bobby
  • The Woman's Dead/ Entire Company
  • Show People/ Carmen, Cioffi, Entire Company
  • Coffee Shop Nights/ Cioffi
  • In the Same Boat/Georgia, Niki, Bambi
  • I Miss the Music/ Aaron
  • Thataway!/Georgia, Ensemble
Act Two
  • He Did it/Company
  • In the Same Boat 2/Bobby, Randy, Harv
  • It's a Business/ Carmen, Stagehands
  • Kansasland/Randy, Niki, Harv, Bobby, Bamby, Ensemble
  • Thinking of Him/ I Miss the Music (Reprise)/ Aaron, Georgia
  • A Tough Act to Follow/ Cioffi, Niki, Ensemblei
  • In the Same Boat (3)/ Company
  • A Tough Act to Follow (Reprise)/Company

Laura Hitchcock's Review of Curtains when it premiered with same cast and production team in Los Angeles

Critics earn their living by killing other people's dreams. --- Carmen.
Putting on a musical has got to be the most fulfilling thing a person ever gets to do. --- Lieut. Frank Cioffi

It doesn't have the searing score of Cabaret or the dark satire of Chicago but this light-hearted mystery tuner has some stand-alone musical numbers that will go home from the theater with you. The plot is tight as a steel trap and often very funny, and the cast and production values are to die for.

Set in 1959 Curtains is a homage to the Golden Age of Musicals and not just the ones by Kander and Ebb, whose last hurrah this is. There's a showboat sweeping across stage (Jerome Kern), David Hyde Pierce takes his curtain call on a horse, and he and the Ingenue Niki (Jill Paice) do a 1930s Hollywood dance number on a staircase beneath chandeliers which I call Fred and Ginger but Niki calls Marge and Gower Champion. The proscenium of the Ahmanson Theatre has been embellished with the kind of fanciful whirls and carvings we can see for real at the other side of town in the Pantages.

When Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (David Hyde Pierce) is called to the Colonial Theatre in Boston during the out-of-town tryout of a new musical to solve the curtain call murder of the leading lady it's not the thrill of the chase that animates him but the thrill of the theatre --to be precise, musical theatre. A veteran of community theatre productions it's his dream come true to find himself on the same stage with real actors. Once, he and the leading lady Georgia (Karen Ziemba) even fake a scene to trap the killer but it's sharing a scene with Georgia that's most important to Frank. "Will you forget about murders for a second?" he yells at his suspects with impatient asperity, as he volunteers directorial suggestions to improve the production.

Pierce is wonderful at this. With the assistance of choreographer Rob Ashford he gives his dancing that touch of awkwardness that marks the amateur, and his passion bears the stamp of the terminally stagestruck. This concept doesn't always work. Although some of the jokes are very funny, others are cringingly corny clichés. Let's hope that's the point.

Rupert Holmes, who wrote the book from the late Peter Stone's original concept and co-wrote additional lyrics after lyricist Fred Ebb's death, is in his element here. A mystery buff who won Tonys for The Mystery of Edwin Drood and a Mystery Writers of America award for Accomplice, he hits his marks with plenty of red herings and a killer you should suspect but probably won't.

Although this is a creampuff compared to some K&E works, John Kander's music has several fine stand-alone numbers "Show People" is sure to be a perennial Broadway anthem. "I Miss The Music" is a lyrically beautiful melody, particularly as sung by the superb Jason Danieley. "Coffee Shop Nights" with lyrics credited to Kander, Ebb and Holmes, conjures images of Edward Hopper's paintings. "A Tough Act To Follow"" is versatile enough to break into that Fred and Ginger dance number. "In The Same Boat" is a trio number used to demonstrate how concepts change as they are worked on in a musical and winds up with all three versions being performed simultaneously in an ingenious three-part confection, while that showboat glides self-importantly across the back of the stage.

The cast includes a powerful Debra Monk as producer Carmen Bernstein, who harshly disparages her dancing daughter Elaine who wants to be called Bambi so people won't think she got the part through nepotism. Bambi chose her name because you know what happened to Bambi's mother and Megan Sikora who plays her is a skilled dancer and has the sort of whiny Baby Snooks voice that is as much a musical cliché as the Ingenue and the Juvenile. Noah Racey dances his way through Bobby Pepper, the Juvenile, with youthful charm and grace. Jill Paice has a delicate crystal soprano and the kind of fragile blonde prettiness that makes you sure she'll get Ingenue parts for 50 years. Broadway veteran Karen Ziemba plays the writer who winds up a star (the composers may have wished upon one and allowed their fictional counterpart to make their dreams come true). Robert Walden plays the ill-fated Sidney Bernstein with a sinister leer that becomes a snarl whenever his honeymoon in San Juan, the butt of running jokes, is brought up. Edward Hibbert has swish and world-weary down pat as the director, Christopher Belling.

Anna Louizos's backstage set is appropriately dim and spooky, stunningly spotlighted by Peter Kaczorowski's lighting design. William Ivey Long's costumes combine 1950s glamour with heightened theatricality.

The real-life director Scott Ellis has championed the project for years. His production is trim, fit and ready to take its homage of memories and laughter to the Great White Way.

Music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebb, Additional Lyrics by John Kander and Rupert Holmes, Book by Rupert Holmes, Original Book and Concept by Peter Stone
Director: Scott Ellis
Cast: Jim Newman (Randy), Jill Paice (Niki), Patty Goble (Jessica Cranshaw, Connie), Noah Racey (Bobby Pepper), Michael X. Martin (Johnny), Darcie Roberts (Roberta Wooster), Megan Sikora (Bambie Bernstein), Karen Ziemba (Georgia Hendricks), Jason Danieley (Aaron Fox), Debra Monk (Carmen Bernstein), Michael McCormick (Oscar), Edward Hibbert (Christopher Belling), David Hyde Pierce (Lieut. Frank Cioffi), Mary Ann Lamb (Mona Page), Matt Farnsworth (Harv), Robert Walden (Sidney Bernstein), David Eggers (Detective O'Farrell, Roy Stetson), John Bolton (Daryl Grady), Nili Bassman (Arlene Barucca), Ward Billeisen (Brick Hawvermale), Jennifer Dunne (Jan), Brittany Marcin (Peg), Joe Aaron Reid (Ronnie), Christopher Spaulding (Russ)
Set Design: Anna Louizos
Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Sound Design: Brian Ronan
Choreographer: Rob Ashford
Conductor:- David Loud
Running Time: Two and a half hours, one intermission
Running Dates: July 25-September 10, 2006
Where: The Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, Reservations: (213) 680-4017
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on August 9.
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Wide Open Spaces/ Jessica, Niki, Bobby, Bambi, Ensemble
  • What Kind of Man?/Carmen, Oscar, Aaron, Georgia
  • Thinking of Him/ Georgia, Aaron, Bobby
  • The Woman's Dead/ Entire Company
  • Show People/ Carmen, Cioffi, Entire Company
  • Coffee Shop Nights/ Cioffi
  • In the Same Boat 1 /Georgia, Niki, Bambi
  • I Miss the Music/ Aaron
  • Thataway!/Georgia, Ensemble
Act Two
  • He Did It/ Entire Company
  • In the Same Boat 2/ Bobby, Randy, Harv
  • It's A Business/ Carmen, Stagehands
  • Kansasland/Randy, Niki, Harv, Bobby, Bambi, Ensemble
  • I Miss the Music (Reprise) /Aaron, Georgia
  • A Tough Act To Follow /Cioffi, Niki, Ensemble
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