New York City Theater
Al Hirschfeld Theater
“Curtains” starts with a bang. In “Wide Open Spaces,” we’re supposedly in the midst of the Boston tryout of a musical comedy titled “Robin Hood of the Old West.” While the chorus works its butts off, the leading lady is such a disaster that her murder is a blessing. It’s a funny scene.
Not only is the company now faced with a whodunit, but they may soon be out of a job if no replacement is found. Enter Boston police detective and musical comedy buff Frank Cioffi. Not only will our hero find the murderer but he’ll fix the ailing show. (Maybe he should have started with “Curtains” itself.)
One major problem is the lack of character development. Sure, it’s a musical comedy, not Shakespeare. Yet, despite lots of running around, everything seems to stand still and except for having the crime solved, we know little more at the end than we did at the beginning. The action just drifts, as in the endless Act One finale, “Thataway.”
To be sure, the score by John Kander and Fred Ebb (also the team responsible for “All About Us” at the Westport Country Playhouse) has its inspired moments. “Show People” is a rousing tribute to you-know-who, while “What Kind of Man” is an amusing stab at critics. (“Who could be jerk enough / Hard up enough / To want a job like that?”)
Then there’s the plaintive “I Miss the Music,” a heartfelt Kander tribute to his deceased partner, Ebb. (“I miss the music / I miss my friend.”)
Act Two is marginally better, although the joke level is no higher. (Example: “The reason you’re such a low life is because you’re built so close to the ground.”) And the construction of the Rupert Holmes/Peter Stone libretto is unwieldy. Most puzzling is an anti-climactic scene between the detective and the producer that comes off more as an after-thought than integral to the show.
That the detective is played by an ingratiating David Hyde Pierce and the producer by the formidable Debra Monk is a plus. As the acerbic show-within-the-show director Edward Hibbert does a great Bette Davis imitation, walking off with his every scene. Also top-notch are Karen Ziemba, Jason Danieley, Noah Racey and Jill Paice.
Rob Ashford’s choreography includes a giddy Agnes De Mille takeoff, while director Scott Ellis works hard to inject life into what is essentially an unnecessary musical.
-- David A. Rosenberg
April 24, 2007