A Kander & Ebb premiere in the West End you say? Curtains makes its bow at the Wyndham’s Theatre and I had an arrestingly good time with it
“Shall we all observe a moment of silence…
to match the audience’s response to Jessica’s first number”
There’s no denying that theatre loves shows about theatre and on the Charing Cross Road right now, you’ve got a play within a play at the Garrick right next to a musical about a musical at the Wyndham’s. Curtains ups the ante though by throwing in a murder mystery as well for good measure and the result is a something of a good old-fashioned romp, blessed with that rarest of things, a barely-known Kander & Ebb score. Having only received a few drama school productions (I saw it at Arts Ed)
The show dates back to 2006 but had a tricky road to completion as original book writer Peter Stone died before finishing it, Rupert Holmes stepping in to rewrite, and Fred Ebb also passed away a year later, with Kander and Holmes completing the lyrical content. Curtains managed a relatively successful run on Broadway but for whatever reason, it never made the leap across the Atlantic (into the West End at least) until now, as Paul Foster’s touring production steps neatly into a scheduling gap to provide an alternative cup of Christmas cheer.
It really is all rather good fun. The musical within the musical is reliably daft, a Western version of Robbin’ Hood, which is interrupted by the murder of its hapless leading lady during a performance in Boston. The detective that then turns up turns out to be a musical theatre obsessive and is more interested in helping the show secure a Broadway transfer. And as writers, producers, directors, chorus boys and girls and critics all have something to say about whether or not the show will go on, whilst avoiding being offed, there’s a tribute too to the trials and triumphs of the creative process.
Obviously aided by a few months out on the road, Foster has nailed the tone of the show perfectly. There’s a sense of fun that occasionally borders on the silly but for the most part, there’s a real precision that elevates and lands every twist of the screwball comedy. Samuel Holmes and Rebecca Lock are fantastically broad as the sardonic director and brassy producer respectively, both wielding their quips like weapons. And as the estranged writer pair, there’s real sweetness in Andy Coxon and Carley Stenson’s performances, as they each strive for artistic perfection in trying circumstances.
Throw in some great choreography from Alistair David, danced well by all but particularly by an excellent Alan Burkitt, and warm musical direction from Alex Beetschen of a score that teeters on greatness (‘The Woman’s Dead’ is a stone-cold classic, and the progression of ‘In The Same Boat’ throughout the show is gorgeously done) and pitch-perfect casting in its leading man, with Jason Manford in charmingly great form, there’s just a whole lot of arrestingly good fun to be had here.