Group: Kirkwood Theatre Guild
Venue: Reim Theatre, Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer
Dates: May 5, 6, 7
Tickets: $22; contact 314-821-9956 or www.ktg-onstage.org
Story: Hoping for a theatrical smash that can be taken directly to Broadway, an assortment of folks involved with the Boston trial run of a musical called “Robbin’ Hood of the Old West” instead are devastated when the Beantown critics nearly unanimously pan their fledgling work. Making matters worse, though, is the murder of the talentless diva, Jessica Crenshaw, during bows on opening night.
Fear not, though. Intrepid police lieutenant Frank Cioffi, an amateur thespian and aficionado of musical theater himself, arrives on the scene and promptly quarantines the entire cast and crew, since he believes the killer didn’t have time to vacate the premises after the foul deed.
So, who is the dastardly villain? Is it lecherous producer Sidney Bernstein or his estranged wife and co-producer Carmen? Could it be divorced songwriter Aaron Fox, whose partner and ex-wife Georgia Hendricks seems smitten with choreographer Bobby Pepper? How about financial backer Oscar Shapiro or Carmen’s aspiring actress daughter Bambi? There’s also comely understudy Niki Harris, who strikes the lonely lieutenant’s fancy, busybody stage manager Johnny Harmon, caustic Boston Globe theater critic Darryl Grady, wise-cracking English director Christopher Belling, musical conductor Sasha Iljinsky and a large chorus of men and women who shed no tears over Jessica’s untimely demise.
As Lt. Cioffi pieces together clues to the murderous mayhem, he also offers suggestions for improving the production, which now features Hendricks in the star turn after years behind the limelight. Since Grady has agreed to re-review the show with its sudden cast change, anxieties are high while “the show must go on.”
Highlights: “Curtains” boasts an impressive pedigree, being based on an original book and concept by the late Peter Stone (“My One and Only,” “1776”), book by Rupert Holmes, lyrics by the late Fred Ebb and music by John Kander, with additional lyrics by Kander and Holmes. Much of the work is reminiscent stylistically of more familiar Kander and Ebb musicals such as “Cabaret” and particularly “Chicago,” with Holmes’ noted penchant for puns observed throughout the comic script. It’s a send-up of Agatha Christie whodunits as well as the ‘show within a show’ pastiche, and the original Broadway production earned a Tony Award for David Hyde Pierce as the inestimable Lt. Cioffi.
Other Info: Kirkwood Theatre Guild offers ostensibly the first local presentation of this witty and fun-loving vehicle in an uneven and frustrating presentation that showcases the potential of the script and tunes that too often are overshadowed by significant problems in staging and execution. Director Adam Grun and assistant director Danny Austin have to take responsibility for much of that, although many of the performers just aren’t up to the sophisticated level of a Kander and Ebb score.
Additionally, choreographer Kimberly Klick’s various dances are frequently underwhelming with this chorus, although there is a nice bit featuring Alan Agular and Nisrine Omri as dancing duo Cioffi and Niki on the fantasy bit, “A Tough Act to Follow.” Musical director Justin Smolik’s band often sounds strained, although at times there’s a robust spirit to the proceedings when led by the likes of talented singer Laura Kyro, as she belts out “It’s a Business” as hard-bitten producer Carmen, or Jeffrey Wright’s smooth baritone embellishing Aaron’s turn on the ballad, “I Miss the Music.”
Acting highlights include Kent Coffel’s delightful take on the snippy English director and Omri’s appealing ingénue Niki. Joy Powell displays a fine voice of her own as Georgia and Sara Rae Womack does well with the comic elements of Bambi. KTG veteran Bert Wunderlich has the look and style of worried impresario Oscar, while Tom Day is properly oafish as blackmailing schemer Sidney. Tim Grumich is OK as earnest Bobby, Don Knobbe is appropriately surly as the snobbish Grady (what else for a theater reviewer?), David DeRose is a better actor than singer as Johnny, Smolik has fun as the baton-waving musical director Sasha and Betsy Gasoske gets the most out of Jessica’s brief turn.
In the pivotal role of Lt. Cioffi, Agular displays considerable charm and a winning way with the dialogue, but unfortunately dropped numerous lines in his Saturday night performance. This only exacerbated the often sluggish pace set by Grun as he tried to corral the unwieldy cast. Hopefully the second weekend will showcase a tighter presentation.
Stephanie Draper’s set is simple and functional and highlighted by an amusing Act II bit, “The Man Is Dead,” which features much of the cast peering out from sheets and curtains in the middle of the night. Cherol Thibaut’s costumes combine the ritzy look of the off-stage creative types with the campy costumes of the “Robbin’ Hood” musical for the chorus, while Dolores Perlow, JD Wade and Draper contribute props, sound design and lighting, respectively.
“Curtains” is certainly an ambitious undertaking for the Kirkwood Theatre Guild’s annual musical. With more work and additional attention to detail it could also be more enjoyable.
Rating: A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5.