What's so clever about Curtains is that it combines two sturdy genres: the musical about putting on a musical; and the murder mystery. Despite the murder plot, it's hilarious. At the end of the show, the audience is sworn to secrecy about who the murderer is, so it wouldn't be fair to give away too much of the plot. Suffice it to say, all the killing takes place in a Boston theater in 1959 during the pre-Broadway tryout of a pretty lousy musical called Robbin' Hood, an Oklahoma!/Annie Get Your Gun wannabe. Can police detective Frank Cioffi save the cast and crew by figuring out who the murderer is? And just as important, can he save this musical from dying out of town?
The conceit, and it's a good one, is that Cioffi is a theater fanatic who's only done community theater up till now. He's enthralled by the makings of a big-time Broadway musical. Most of the time you can't tell if he's more interesting in solving the case or in fixing the show. Turns out he's pretty good at both.
Besides the musical's cast members, we meet the producers, the financial backer, the composer and lyricist (who used to be husband and wife), the egomaniacal director, the stage manager, and the Boston Globe theater critic. (Who is the most important in getting the show to Broadway? Another mystery for you to ponder.)
Some of the musical numbers are supposed to be bad, because they're from Robbin' Hood. But there are a bunch of really enjoyable "backstage" songs about the business of putting on a show (one called, blatantly enough, "It's a Business"). These songs might not have memorable melodies, but the lyrics are super witty (especially the song about theater critics). It's hard to know who's responsible for the cleverness of the lyrics and the book. Fred Ebb died during the writing of the show, and Rupert Holmes and John Kander are credited with "additional lyrics." Likewise, the original book was by Peter Stone, but he also died, and now the book is credited to Rupert Holmes.
There are a couple nice ballads, like "Coffee Shop Nights," and an absolutely charming fantasy duet called "A Tough Act to Follow." The dancing in this last number is very "Fred and Ginger," but the characters say that they imagined themselves as Marge and Gower Champion. If you get that reference, you'll love the show even more.
Jane and Cy Hoffman, the directors, along with musical director Loretta Robinson, choreographer Kiersten Johnson, and stage manager Ludwig Puchmayer, have coordinated their cast of fourteen and the small band of musicians excellently. Lots of entrances and exits and musical numbers, and all smooth sailing. The singing and dancing aren't 100% top-notch, but I didn't mind a bit. Everybody is giving it their all.
Tim MacAlpine is wonderfully charming as Cioffi, and is an excellent singer and dancer. Carolyn Hogan is terrific as the sarcastic producer Carmen Bernstein. Margie Maes is hysterically "bad" as the star of Robbin' Hood, and it's almost a shame that she gets killed off in the first few minutes. Sean Wingfield has the pompous ass role down pat as the director. There is impressive singing by Reni and Scott Fitzgibbon, who play the lyricist and composer, and very good dancing and singing by Kristen Jack and Kiersten Johnson. Strong support is provided by everyone else: Antonio M. Barreda (who has a nice little poignant moment near the end), Jim Duran, Johnathan Howell, Bruce Huff, Riley Robinson, and Fred Schwab.
The set by Barbara Bock (who keeps telling me that she has designed her last set, but fortunately doesn't keep her word) is evocative of the backstage of an old theater, and the costumes by Judi Buehler, props by Katie Hassi, and lighting by Michael Girlamo are all fine. This is an all-around captivating production of a musical that is not often performed, but doesn't deserve to fade into obscurity. This might be your only chance to see it, ever, and I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity.
Curtains, a musical comedy by John Kander, Fred Ebb, Rupert Holmes, and Peter Stone, is being presented at The Adobe Theater, 9813 Fourth Street NW (a few blocks north of Alameda) in Albuquerque. Through June 7, 2015. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Info at www.adobetheater.org or 505-898-9222. Tickets are $20, or $18 for seniors and students. There is a Pay What You Will performance to benefit the cast and crew on Thursday, May 28, at 7:30.