Sunday, May 8, 2011

theatre review - CURTAINS - Papermill Playhouse May 7

Robert Newman and Kim Zimmer (center) and the cast
of the Papermill Playhouse production of Curtains.
 John Kander and Fred Ebb have written some excellent musicals - Chicago, Cabaret and Kiss of the Spider Woman being their three most successful shows.   But they also wrote numerous others, some of which had decent runs on Broadway while others didn't run long at all. However, their scores are usually always great with each show having at least a few good songs.  Woman of the Year, Zorba, The Rink, The Act, Flora the Red Menace and Steel Pier all have some great songs in their scores but while Woman of the Year ran for two years on Broadway, the other shows only managed a run of a year or so with some of them only managing to last a few months.

Fred Ebb passed away in 2004 but like any composing team they had numerous shows that were in the works when Ebb died or ones that they had been working on in the past but had stopped concentrating on for various reasons.  Two of these shows had Broadway productions mounted after Fred's passing -Scottsboro Boys and Curtains.   Scottsboro Boys is obviously in the news now since that show just received 12 Tony nominations, but like many of Kander and Ebb's other shows, Scottsboro didn't have a long Broadway run, only managing to last on Broadway for six weeks.

Curtains managed a longer run then Scottsboro, it opened on Broadway in March 2007 and ran for a little over a year, closing in June 2008.  With this show it wasn't just Ebb who passed away before it was able to be produced, but also Peter Stone, who had the original concept for the show and wrote the original book, passed away in 2003.  Now Curtains is a musical mystery so fortunately Rupert Holmes, who has experience with mysteries and musicals- having written the book and the score for the Broadway show The Mystery of Edwin Drood as well as other mystery plays, was brought on board to re-write the book as well as add additional lyrics in Ebb's absence.

Amanda Rose and Robert Newman
The plot of the show involves a Broadway bound musical, having out of town tryouts in 1959 Boston, who's leading lady is murdered on their opening night.   A local detective, who also is a musical theatre buff, attempts to solve the murder while the creators and cast of the musical attempt to solve the problems with their show.  And since the murder happened on the stage when everyone in the cast and crew were present, they are all suspects and can't leave the theatre until the mystery is solved.

We saw the original Broadway cast in previews and yesterday saw the Paper Mill Playhouse production of the show.

Now Curtains does have many things going for it - great characters, a plot that keeps you guessing as to just who the murderer actually is and some rousing songs.  While the plot is an interesting and somewhat original one, and there are some good songs and the plot has plenty of twists and turns it it, I still found the show to be a little lacking in being able to bring all of the components together to make a satisfying musical.  After seeing the Paper Mill Playhouse production, I still feel the same way.

David Elder and the cast
I think the main reason for this is that the show tries to play it both ways, it wants to be a somewhat serious whodunit while also being a backstage musical comedy and it has a little difficulty in seamlessly combining the two.  There are a couple of times in the show when the mystery is in process of being solved only to have a comical number relating to the musical inside of Curtains get in the way.  Now I understand that is the point of this show, that things get in the way of us finding out who the murderer is, and Holmes is a very good book writer, but some of these moments seem to slow the show down instead of being just a simple bump on the road to the discovery of just whodunit.   I also think the score, while having some very good songs, just isn't on the par of some of Kander and Ebb's other shows.   Most of the songs for the show within the show, Robbin' Hood!, just aren't that good, while most of the songs for the characters that are working on Robbin' Hood are.  It's still a fun show, and I think you'll have a fun time at it, I just wish that the score had a couple of more hit songs and the book was scrubbed a little more to elevate the whole show to something more on the calibre of Kander and Ebb's hit musicals.

Zimmer, Anne Horak and Ed Dixon
It's a good thing that both the Broadway and Papermill casts are extremely well cast.  While the Broadway show included David Hyde Pierce and Debra Monk in the two lead parts of the Boston detective trying to solve the case and the co-producer of Robbin' Hood!, at Papermill these parts are being played by Robert Newman and Kim Zimmer.   Newman and Zimmer played a couple on the soap Guiding Light for many years and while they don't play a romantic couple in Curtains, they have such great chemistry together and that translates to this production.  Both have been nominated for numerous daytime Emmy's for their work, with Zimmer winning the award four times.  Newman perfectly plays the detective trying to solve the murder as well as a person who loves the theatre, the fact that they are the same character and Newman is able to play both sides of this character shows how good of an actor he is.  Zimmer has great comic skills, a great laugh and is able to instill fear in the cast and crew of her show, exactly like you'd expect a producer to do.  They both also sing and dance very well.

Other cast members of note in the Papermill production are Ed Dixon as the director of Robbin' Hood! - he has perfect comic timing and great stage presence and David Elder who plays the choreographer and male lead of Robbin' Hood! performed that part on Broadway as well.  He is a great dancer and singer.  Anne Horack is the daughter of Zimmer's character and she has a lot of fun with the role and has a great dance number in act two with Elder.

Papermill has given this show a first rate production with a beautiful backstage set design by Robert Kovach, excellent lighting by Charlie Morrison and colorful and spectacular costumes by Tracy Christensen.

My favorite songs from the show - Thinking of Him, Show People, Coffee Shop Nights, I Miss the Music, It's a Business and A Tough Act to Follow

Amazon link for the cd of  Curtains (2007 Original Broadway Cast) - audio clips below:

David Hyde Pierce, Debra Monk and the Original Broadway Cast - Tony Awards performance -

Original Broadway cast member Jason Danieley sings "I Miss the Music" -

Highlights from the Paper Mill production -

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