Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of Twilight's Quest
When Ebb passed away in 2004 the duo had several unproduced shows in the works and Curtains was one of them. Peter Stone, who came up with the original concept for the show and wrote the original book, had passed away in 2003. 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 and add lyrics in Ebb's absence.
The plot involves a Broadway bound musical having out of town tryouts in 1959 Boston. The leading lady is murdered on opening night and a local detective, who is also a musical theatre buff, attempts to solve the murder while the creators and cast 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.
Curtains has 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. However, 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, the show is a little lacking in bringing all of the components together to make a satisfying musical. I think the main reason for this is that the writers have tried to have it both waysthe show is a somewhat serious whodunit while also being a backstage musical comedy. There are a couple of times where the mystery is in the process of being solved and a comical number relating to the musical inside of Curtains gets 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.
Also, the score isn't on par with Kander and Ebb's work in 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 who are working on Robbin' Hood are much better. I just wish that the score had a couple more catchy tunes and the book were scrubbed a little more to elevate the whole thing to something more on the level of Kander and Ebb's hit musicals.
While Fountain Hills can't do anything to overcome these shortcomings inherent in the show, they fortunately have a cast that is quite good. As Cioffi, the Boston detective trying to solve the case, and the demanding co-producer of Robbin' Hood!, Michael Stewart and Leslie Haddad play off of each other very well. Stewart is perfectly believable as a detective as well as a person who loves the theatre; the fact that he is able to play both sides of the role with an abundance of charm and authority shows how good of an actor he is. He also manages a fairly good and consistent Boston accent. Haddad injects a big dose of motherly advice beneath her demands, which helps round out the character and make her more realistic. She also has good comic skills and is able to instill fear in the cast and crew of her show, exactly like you'd expect a producer to do.
Other cast members of note are Peter J. Hill as the director of Robbin' Hood!. Hill has perfect comic timing, great stage presence and delivers his witty dialogue smoothly. Karylin Veres brings a beautiful sense of innocence to the naïve Nikki, the actress Cioffi finds himself falling for. Good work is done by Alex Gonzalez, Danielle Hale, and Mark Hackmann who play, respectively, the songwriters and the sole investor of Robbin Hood!. Erin Ryan plays the outspoken daughter of Haddad's character and she has a lot of fun with the role.
Hill's direction instills a fast pace and plays up the humor in the show but also doesn't undercut the more intense moments of the ongoing murder investigation. Noel Irick's fun choreography adds humorous moments even though the slightly lackluster ensemble has some members who haven't quite mastered the moves. Even with a very small band, Jennifer Whiting's music direction manages to bring plenty of charm to the score. Mickey Courtney's costumes are bright, colorful, and period centric and, while Hill's set design isn't that elaborate, it works well to evoke the several back stage locations.
While Curtains isn't a perfect musical it is still a fun show. Fountain Hills' production is fast paced with an effective cast and adept direction that find both the warmth and humor within the mystery.
Fountain Hills Theater's production of Curtains runs through May 22nd, 2016, with performances at 11445 N. Saguaro Blvd. in Fountain Hills. Information on tickets can be found at www.fhtaz.org or by calling 480-837-9661.
Director/Set & Light Design: Peter J. Hill