Thursday, August 10, 2006

Curtains (The SOB Review) – Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center, Los Angeles, CA

Curtains (The SOB Review) – Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center, Los Angeles, CA

**** (out of ****)

Thank goodness for a real honest-to-goodness old-fashioned backstage musical! Complete with stirring overture, there's a great new show that possesses one show-stopping number after another, invigorating choreography, sharp dialogue, intelligent book and genuinely marvelous cast. Look no further than the world premiere of the much-anticipated Curtains, the exceedingly smart, exceptionally funny and thrilling final theatrical bow for the legendary songwriting team of John Kander and the late Fred Ebb. In a word, it’s fun.

But that bow at Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theatre unequivocally merits an early encore on a Broadway stage with a long berth to boot. While the show may be just a smidge too long (after all, it was still in previews when I saw it), I have no doubt that Curtains will find the perfect pitch and balance to make it an enduring testament to Kander and Ebb’s genius and talent.

Curtains, expertly helmed by Scott Ellis (She Loves Me, Twelve Angry Men and the recent Off-Broadway revival of Entertaining Mr. Sloane), is drawn from similar show business swatches as other great Kander and Ebb classics like Cabaret and Chicago, and like those two, peril looms large. In this case, courtesy of a cleverly written book by Rupert Holmes -- based on an original concept by the late Peter Stone, Curtains is the backstage story of a pre-Broadway run in Boston for a 1959 musical in which a past-her-prime leading lady is bumped off, resulting in a whodunit mystery where the entire cast and crew are implicated by their secrets.

Enter gumshoe Lieutenant Frank Cioffi, played with gusto and comic precision by David Hyde Pierce. While sequestering the entire cast and crew until the murder is solved, Cioffi tempers his interrogation with his own fanciful suggestions for how to improve the troubled show. A closet thespian, Cioffi confuses and confounds everyone from the vicious Boston Globe theater critic Daryl Grady (played with wicked relish by Josh Bolton) to potential love interest Niki Harris (the exquisite Jill Paice) as he alternates between crime investigation and instigation of the ultimate climax for the fictitious "Robbin’ Hood."

I can’t say enough good things about the impeccable cast. Without ever going over the top, Debra Monk consumes the stage with her portrayal of the brash, yet cunning producer/stage mother Carmen Bernstein, and she delivers what is sure to become the latest in a storied line of vital song staples that beautifully describe those who inhabit musical theatre: “Show People.”

Jason Danieley radiates warmth and affection as the lovelorn Aaron Fox, one half of the musical-within-a-musical’s husband and wife songwriting team. His other half, Georgia Hendricks is played by the sublime Karen Ziemba; like her fictitious counterpart, Ziemba is so very deserving of her turn in the spotlight. As Robbin’ Hood’s leading man Bobby Pepper, Noah Racey’s skillful dancing and easy manner once again prove why he’s a modern-day equivalent to the great Fred Astaire. And Edward Hibbert’s fussbudget director Christopher Belling keeps you guessing whether he’s the actual culprit of the crime. Special mention goes to the charming Megan Sikora, whose bubbly characterization of Bambi Bernstein makes her an actress to keep in your sights. Plus, there’s also a pretty novel device employed to showcase the beloved conductor and orchestrator David Loud.

The music itself certainly is one of the leading stars of the show. Several songs are sure to become classic tunes, including the aforementioned “Show People,” as well as my personal favorite tune “The Woman’s Dead” that epitomizes just how well-revered the deceased leading lady actually was.

Rob Ashford’s brilliant choreography has once again enabled a leading man not typically known for his dancing prowess to shine (see my notes on Guys and Dolls and Ewan McGregor), particularly on the lovely dream sequence of “A Tough Act to Follow” that pairs Pierce with Paice; for the rest of Curtains’ troupe, it becomes a breathtaking ride through the unusually large number of rousing and memorable numbers. Curtains also possesses one of the more effective and elaborate set designs I’ve seen in recent memory, thanks to Anna Louizos – who has come a long way from the simplicity of Avenue Q and Golda’s Balcony. And lest I forget, the impressive costume design by William Ivey Long combines 1950’s chic with wild West wear.

Despite the impressive pedigree of the show, Curtains finds time to pay homage to a wide tapestry of some of the greatest musicals of all time, including send-ups of Oklahoma! in “Wide Open Spaces,” as well as Gypsy and even A Chorus Line. This valentine to Broadway certainly is a fitting, fun finale for two of the Great White Way’s most proficient songwriting duos during the last forty-five years. It all adds up: murder + mayhem + music = must-see!

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Curtains Set to Rise on Curtains Tonight in LA (August 9, 2006)
Curtains Pulls Advance Buzz (August 1, 2006)
Curtains' Calling on Broadway? (July 24, 2006)
Kander and Ebb's Curtains Set to Rise in LA This Summer (May 11, 2006)

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At 28 February, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saw the show in NYC end of Feb. and the length is still a bit long. The score is the weakest thing about this show. Feels like assembled "truck songs" from other shows perhaps? Notice how the web site for the show doesn't even have any music playing on it. David Hyde Pierce is good in his sweetly mild-mannered way. Karen Ziemba gets a chance to shine along with the actress playing "Bambi." All in all a very clever if somewhat corny old-fashioned musical. Hopefully the songs will sparkle more as the company and orchestra settle into their new home on Broadway.

At 28 February, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Appreciate your comments. Of course, the first preview performance was last night, so I'll be curious to hear how you got your sneak peek! I actually enjoyed the tunes when I caught the show last summer, but realize that anything can happen before the show finally opens on Broadway this March 22.


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