What? Another Kander and Ebb musical I haven’t seen? That makes two in less than a month – how fantastic! I saw an ad for Curtains when I was at the Landor Theater for Flora the Red Menace and I bought tickets to go see it within about 24 hours. I mean, c’mon! A murder mystery musical … by Kander and Ebb! I was surprised I hadn’t actually had someone knock on my door and direct market it to me, it was so perfectly suited to my tastes.
The night we came, the cast had the kind of electric air you get on opening night (and I think it was press night), all VERY on and broadcasting far beyond the tiny confines of the Landor (there are about four row total and room for about 80-100 in the theater). The stage was set up on the diagonal, so that a curtained proscenium blocked off a small triangle of the stage, creating either a big “front of stage” look for the scenes where we were “watching a show,” but allowing it to change the large space to being “backstage” by moving the props from in front of the curtain to behind (very clever!). Note that because of this, you may get a better overall experience if you sit in the corner area of the audience (the seats are on two sides in an L formation), though there is also enough action right in front of the “curtains” that this may be a matter of opinion. (I sat about the fifth seat in from the door, second row, and was generally happy with my view except for during the dance numbers.)
The story is fairly simple: a group of talented people are performing a show they hope to take to Broadway, and a member of the team is murdered. A detective quickly shows up to figure out “whodunnit,” but in a twist, he is a musical theater fan who decides to devote his efforts to fixing the show as well as fighting crime. So we get to watch the evolution of a musical while listen to the various people deal with their issues with each others (as actors, dancers, composers, producers, etc.) in high “musical” style … while the mystery unfolds. Particularly outstanding were Buster Skeggs as producer Carmen Bernstein (and the fantastic number “It’s a Business”) as well as Bryan Kennedy as director Christopher Belling. I felt like I was sitting in a West End house every time they were on stage – it was fantastic! Unfortunately the two female leads just weren’t able to hold up to this level of quality, but I found myself in a forgiving mood given the enjoyable material.
It’s hard to judge this show well as it is, in part, a musical about a bad musical. So some of the songs are insipid (the “In a Boat” song that is reprised several times) and some of the dancing is really not very good at all (i.e. “Bambi’s big number,” which I thought was heinous but was later referred to as the proof of her genuine talents), but I’m not sure when the not good elements were actually deliberate. Kander and Ebb’s fantastic musical style comes through at many points (and I couldn’t help but feel like I was being referred to in the very clever “What Kind of Man,” which slams theater critcs), but … some of the songs seemed soft when I thought they weren’t supposed to.
Yet, overall, I have to say I came out of this show both full of joy and (eep!) whistling the songs, and _that_ is the yardstick by which I judge success. Not every song has to be a miracle, not every performance needs to be at eleven. Curtains was a great night out, and a damned steal at £20 – one of the shows that makes me feel embarrassed at the riches London offers me for mere pennies.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, August 1st, 2012. It continues through September 1st.)