Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Curtains – a witty, feel good show-within-a-show for the ‘paying suckers’ in the stalls (Grand Opera House until Saturday 23 November)

The year is 1959, the city is Boston. A musical production of Robin Hood set in the Wild West with cowboys is on the verge of collapsing under the weight of poor first night reviews. When the leading lady is indisposed – at first temporarily, then permanently – the company hope that the show can be resurrected. But then a homicide detective arrives and seals everyone inside the theatre until he can find the murderer.

From the pen of the creative team responsible for Chicago and the cinematic version of Cabaret comes Curtains, a theatrical whodunit. It’s another show-within-a-show, with a reversible set that allows the audience to go backstage and see what’s happening behind-the-scenes.

Jason Manford steps into the shoes of Lieutenant Frank Cioffi, a wannabe thespian who can’t help but break off his investigations mid-sentence in order to give notes, slowly becoming a de facto assistant director with a passion to improve the flailing Robin Hood production.

Manford may be better known for his on-screen comedy, but his strong singing voice and Boston accent blend well with the other performers and there’s never a doubt that the star turn merits being centre stage. Refusing to ham up the role, he leaves space for the other characters to gather the full laughs their witty lines deserve. Playing opposite Manford, understudy Pamela Blair stepped into the shoes of Niki Harris last night, confidently manoeuvring the ingénue into Cioffi’s warm embrace.

Rebecca Lock’s performance as Robin Hood producer Carmen Bernstein almost steals the show as she belts out Show People and It’s a Business. Samuel Holmes dials back the campness of the director Christopher Belling, while Emma Caffrey fills out young Bambi’s character and performs a great Cleopatra-inspired ballet dance against the understandably bizarre backdrop of Wild West square dancing. And a special mention for Adam Rhys-Charles who bursts into the theatre as the much-hated Boston Globe critic Daryl Grady and suffers What Kind of Man?, a whole song devoted to ripping his profession to threads!

Curtains might begin with the letter C, but it’s no Cabaret or Chicago. The show tunes are much less memorable and the sexual tension is tied back like polite living room drapes. The murder mystery is overshadowed by overly-long scenes from the truly horrific Robin Hood production which show off Carley Stenson’s voice (playing Georgia Hendricks) but needlessly pad out the show and distract from what should be a more involving hunt for motive and evidence.

However, Curtains’ director Paul Foster succeeds in creating a feel-good atmosphere that the “paying suckers” in the stalls can enjoy. David Woodhead’s set serves the double show and double perspective well. The light swearing is effective, jump scares shift the audience in their seats, and dead bodies and injured performers satisfyingly mount up as the show reaches Lieutenant Cioffi’s great reveal.

Curtains runs in the Grand Opera House until Saturday 23 November.

Photo credit: Richard Davenport

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