The Theatreguide.London Review
Wyndham's Theatre Winter 2019-2020
Curtains is a love
letter to the Broadway musical in the form of a Broadway musical,
written by Broadway musical masters. It is tuneful, witty, energetic,
colourful and, most importantly, totally devoid of any deep meaning
or social significance beyond entertainment.
It ought to run forever,
but is actually in London for just a month, and I urge you to run out
and see it.
The plot is a murder
mystery set backstage in the Boston
try-out of a Broadway-bound musical. The very unpopular and
untalented star is killed, and the detective assigned to the case is
a closet theatre buff.
His investigation keeps
getting sidetracked by
his delight at being among his idols and his suggestions for
rewriting and restaging problems numbers in the show they're putting
And so Curtains has
several levels of plot and humour – the
musical-within-the-musical, the criminal investigation, the
theatrical in-jokes and deliciously bitchy backstage backbiting, and
even a couple of romances (including one for the stage-struck cop) –
all delivered with the sharp edge of the creators of Chicago and
Lyricist Fred Ebb died
during the creation of this show, and
composer John Kander and book writer Rupert Holmes finished some of
the songs for him. The seams do not show, and the whole has the
recognisable Kander and Ebb flavour.
Reminded he's a suspect,
character quips 'It's an honour just to be nominated.' there's a song
wondering what kind of mother allows her son to grow up to be a
theatre critic, while a song about how little the victim is mourned
notes 'The skies are blue, Her lips are too.'
There is yet another
level to many of the songs that will provide extra delight to those
who, like the onstage detective, are musical theatre buffs. Kander
and Ebb demonstrate their encyclopedic knowledge of their art form by
including songs that, without in any way imitating others, allude to
The finale of the
cowboy-themed inner musical is
a rousing salute to K-A-N-S-A-S, and that mock mourning song is in
the spirit of Hammerstein's Poor Jud Is Dead. Curtains' big
showstopper, Show People, is a salute to Irving Berlin, and you might
catch the passing hint at Sondheim and even Kander and Ebb
That awareness of
musical theatre history extends beyond
the songs. Alistair David's witty and wholly original choreography
alludes in passing to De Mille, Balanchine, Robbins, Kidd and Fosse,
You don't have to get
the references to enjoy the musical numbers,
but they add an extra kick for those who do.
Jason Manford, better
known as a stand-up comic and TV host, carries the detective role
with style and charm. He sings and dances more than adequately, finds
all the laughs, and is both believable and endearing as investigator,
enthralled fan and even romantic lead.
The only other stand-out in the uniformly fine cast is Rebecca Lock, making the most of some of the best songs and acerbic one-liners as the brassy Ethel-Merman-and-Bette-Midler-channeling producer.
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