"Curtain up! Light the lights!" Oh, sorry, that's "Gypsy". But there is a real curtain, and a real orchestra, and a real overture played by real musicians! And as the glorious red velvet curtain rises, it reveals ï¿½ another curtain! Got it! A play within a play! How original! Oh, sorry, that's Shakespeare.
But look! It's an Old West musical! "Crazy for You," right? Cleavage and can-cans and Crane! Nope, not that musical. Not Dr. Niles Crane anymore ï¿½ itï¿½s David Hyde Pierce as Lt. Cioffi; misguided Columbo out to solve the murder(s) happening in the play that's not within the play. Yes, folks! Murders and mayhem and Monk! Debra Monk ï¿½ big, brassy, blonde ï¿½ Nathan Lane and Ethel Merman rolled into one! Finally, she's a leading lady. Her show-stopping "It's a Business" is worth the trip from anywhere. The show must go on, in spite of cast and crew dropping like the proverbial flop ï¿½ Did the critics really kill them, or was it?
This is "Curtains," a brand new old Broadway musical and it won't be curtains for this "Curtains" for a long time to come. John Kander and Fred Ebb have dished up a musical that is pure delight and laughter, and if you find yourself thinking you've seen it before, it's because you have. "Curtains" is a grand tribute to every grand musical that ever appeared on Broadway.
But it's two, two, two shows in one. A musical and a murder mystery. In this case, the murder victim is Jessica Cranshaw, the leading lady of "Robin Hood of the West," and she's just awful. Can't sing. Can't dance. Can't remember lines. No one can figure out how she got the lead, but there she is taking a bow, and then bowing out.
The producers are relieved she's dead given that the reviews will kill the show: "If you loved 'Oklahoma,' stay there till 'Robin Hood' is over." This is the first defining moment of "Curtains" when you suddenly realize you're watching little snippets of other shows in this big show -- kind of a show, within the show, that's within the show.
There they stand, the producers and writers of "Robin Hood," against a dark background, reading the awful newspaper reviews and ZAP! "The Producers" flashes through your mind.
Book writer Rupert Holmes not only knows his musical theater, he also knows Agatha Christie, and he cooked up a complex plot that'll have you playing an armchair Hercule Poirot as you try to figure out who did what to whom before Cioffi does.
Why are these actors on stage in a Boston tryout when they all could have been on Broadway? Why are they working for scale wages? What's Sidney Bernstein up to and why hasn't anyone seen him? How come Georgia and Aaron are working on the show together when they just got divorced? Can a detective be a show doctor? Can he fall in love with a suspect?
And finally, what's the name of Christie's mystery in which Poirot is murdered?
Kander and Ebb have written more memorable music than you'll hear in "Curtains" -- think "Cabaret" and "Chicago" -- but some of the songs are inspired, like the lament for the dead Jessica. Clearly unaware that it's not polite to say unkind things about the departed, the cast and crew intone -- in F# minor -- "She sang each word / The angels heard / They closed her mouth / and shipped her south / the woman's done."
But "Curtains" will go on thanks to Cioffi. Saving the show, and the show-people is his mission, and we are all intrigued as the heroic trench-coated sleuth discovers, "thereï¿½s trouble ï¿½ right here in Boston City!" (Oh, no sorry, that's "Music Man") With a capital B ï¿½ and that rhymes with C ï¿½ and that stands for ---- "Curtains!" Go see it.
What the press had to say.....
BEN BRANTLEY of the NEW YORK TIMES: ï¿½Talent-packed, thrill-starved production." & "David Hyde Pierce steps into full-fledged Broadway stardom with his performance here." & "'Curtains' lies on the stage like a promisingly gaudy string of firecrackers, waiting in vain for that vital, necessary spark to set it off."
JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ of the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: "Brings a gust of giddy good fun to Broadway." & "The score is lighter than 'Chicago' and 'Cabaret,' but the legendary team has penned a show's worth of good tunes." & "The dancing is athletic and intricate and will knock your socks off."
CLIVE BARNES of THE NEW YORK POST: "It's not so much a whodunit as a whydoit." & "Kander's music doesn't find him at his best." & "The choreography by Rob Ashford was unnoticeable, the scenery by Anna Louizos uninterestingly ugly."
MICHAEL SOMMERS of STAR-LEDGER: "Somewhat clunky, piece of entertainment." & "Director Scott Ellis hasn't ironed out this oddly patchy weave of excellent and indifferent material" & " The lightsome score isn't among Kander & Ebb's best, but presents a cheery tapestry of jaunty songs."
ELYSA GARDNER of USA Today: "'Curtains' may be a sweet swan song, but it will hardly be remembered as Kander and Ebb's finest hour."
LINDA WINER of NEWSDAY: "The music - if you must, the '59 Broadway homage - sounds so familiar that, even during the overture, we have to struggle not to play 'Name That Tune.'" & "likable at best."
ROBERT FELDBERG of THE RECORD: "Delightful fun-ride of a musical." & "An evening of bountiful fun, smartly directed by Scott Ellis and with a strong cast of Broadway veterans, the musical-whodunit honors the songwriters as great entertainers."
ERIC GRODE of the NEW YORK SUN: "At the risk of giving away the ending of 'Curtains,' the director did it. And the choreographer. And the set designer. And the cast. And the writers ï¿½ two of whom died years ago. What this gang of merry miscreants did is breathe a faint but nonetheless refreshing blast of air into a format that has been hurting for oxygen of late ï¿½ the good old-fashioned musical comedy."
JOHN SIMON of BLOOMBERG: "All things considered, if you are looking for another Kander and Ebb classic, you won't find it here. If, on the other hand, you seek no more than some old-fashioned musical-comedy fun, formidably performed, look no further. "
MICHAEL KUCHWARA of ASSOCIATED PRESS: "A thoroughly entertaining new musical...It's a blissful, often very funny celebration of a bygone era, a theater world that has largely disappeared." & " Rupert Holmes (book) propels the musical's genial self-mockery. Yet behind that tweaking is an affection for musical theater, a genuine appreciation of the craft and hard work that goes into making a show work."
FRANK SCHECK of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: "The show lacks the greatness of many of the composing duo's previous efforts ('Cabaret,' 'Chicago'), but it has enough fizzy fun to make it a serious contender for Broadway hit status, especially with stars David Hyde Pierce and Debra Monk offering terrific, crowd-pleasing performances." & "'Curtains' presents a gallery of fun, stereotypical characters, all played with delicious gusto."
DAVID ROONEY of VARIETY: "Hyde Pierce, with his polished comic timing and more than serviceable singing skills, is the (show's) most invaluable asset. His detective is a memorable comic creation who rescues this show from being just another self-satirizing musical spoof."
External links to full reviews from newspapers