“Critics! Who’d make a living out of killing other people’s dreams?”
I could have been on the stage. Indeed I was, briefly as a shy teenager, but playing the piano for shows was a much more appealing option for me and so the world was left sadly bereft of what could have been the definitive Hamlet for our generation. Fortunately though, we are not lacking in acting talent and it is being well-nurtured at drama schools like Arts Ed where I went to catch this undergraduate production of Kander & Ebb’s Curtains. I was particularly keen to see it as the choreography was done by Andrew Wright, the gentleman who did the deed for my favourite musical of last year, Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi and I thought I might be able to convince him to give me a tap dancing lesson in the interval.
Anyway, the show Curtains had a bit of a sad genesis. The original concept came from Peter Stone but he died before he completed the book so Rupert Holmes was brought in to rewrite it but when Fred Ebb also passed away before it had been finished, Holmes and Kander had to step in to finish off the lyrics. But it is not a melancholy show, far from it. It is a ‘musical comedy whodunit’, a send-up of murder mysteries set backstage at a theatre where a spectacularly bad leading lady is murdered after her first night in a Western version of Robin Hood. It is then up to a musical-theatre-loving detective to catch the murderer, save the show and fall in love with the girl of his dreams before the new opening night keeping the entire cast and crew and a rogue critic with far too much time on his hands, under suspicion.
As Lt. Cioffi, crime solver second and musical theatre nerd first, Ben Irish really did impress with a strong comic portrayal of this officer of the law who is just ecstatic to be in the middle of all these show-people and getting to live out his dream, all the while edging closer to the truth of just whodunit. He sang and danced well too and developed a lovely chemistry with Rachel Moran’s appealing Niki, finding time to flirt outrageously in the midst of everything too.
Will Keith came dangerously close to stealing the show though with his fey British twit of a director, highly amusing with a great affectation of brandishing his cane with its bird-head to great effect. But there were great performances throughout the cast with a nice strident ballsiness from Abiola Ogunbiyi as producer Carmen, determined to get the show on no matter what and Sinead Long shone as would-be starlet Bambi, delivering her moment in the sun perfectly, desperately trying to impress her mother.
One couldn’t help but be impressed by the level of skill on display: the ensemble sounded great and danced like a dream, these are classes which are obviously going well! I have no idea how long it takes to learn a dance routine but for a run that was just a week long, this was seriously remarkable work. I would imagine that other things like how to deliver comedy lines and roll with the audience’s laughter are much harder to teach theoretically and so this would have been a great learning experience in that respect and a couple of performances could have done with being just a little more relaxed as I could feel their tenseness at times. All in all though, this was a great performance by a cracking team and a great introduction to this show of which I had heard lots but never seen. And though nothing is certain in this business they call show, I am pretty confident we will be seeing a fair few of these people in venues slightly more central than Turnham Green…