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Curtains

Curtains
Jill Paice and
David Hyde Pierce

Comparisons are bound to be drawn between Curtains and the last pre-Broadway musical to play the Ahmanson, The Drowsy Chaperone. Both shows share an enthusiasm for a fictional musical, and convey that enthusiasm to the audience through the means of a character outside the world of the musical. But, while The Drowsy Chaperone centers around the somewhat dysfunctional "Man in Chair" who sits in his small apartment listening to his favorite cast recording, Curtains introduces us to its play-within-a-play through Lieutenant Frank Cioffi, a Boston homicide detective who is called to the theatre to investigate the opening-night murder of the show's leading lady.

Cioffi is a good, smart cop. But he's also a musical theatre fan; in fact, he's already seen Robbin' Hood! by the time he sequesters the show's entire cast and crew at the theatre for lengthy interviews. If he happens to have a couple of ideas to punch up the script while he's there ... , well, Cioffi isn't shy about playing script doctor while he's playing detective. What he is shy about is actress Niki Harris; he has admired her work from the audience and is just a little cautious about flirting with a real, live, actual actress (never mind that she's a murder suspect). David Hyde Pierce is a charming Cioffi, deftly handling Cioffi's seamless transitions from detective to script doctor to starstruck lover in a way that always gets a laugh. And he's downright adorable when Cioffi gets an old-fashioned song and dance dream sequence with Niki. Pierce's one weakness is that he's a merely adequate singer; his first act solo, a wistful number which establishes Cioffi's longing for a little more magic in his life, is probably not the best use of Pierce's considerable talents.

It also isn't the most memorable song in the piece. The show's score (music credit to John Kander; lyric credit to Fred Ebb with additional lyrics by Kander and Rupert Holmes) has about a half-dozen knockout numbers that make me anticipate the cast recording more than anything else in recent memory. For starters, there's a great deal of comedy in here. Take "What Kind of Man?" - a song in which the Robbin' Hood! creative team reacts to the show's horrible reviews by questioning what kind of evil people become critics, with lines like, "What kind of putz would squeeze your nuts like that?" Shortly thereafter, the entire company sings "The Woman's Dead," a dirge for the late leading lady, in which we discover that her death is hardly lamented. Every line scores laughs; about halfway through, you just start waiting for the next zinger, and it does not disappoint. The show also has some unabashedly rousing numbers, including "Show People," which is this show's version of the "Lullaby of Broadway" number, and "Thataway!," the first-act curtain number from the show-within-a-show. Perhaps most memorable is "In the Same Boat," a song you'll see four different times as Cioffi keeps trying to fix what he inherently knows is the show's eleven o'clock number, although it doesn't play that way at first. When they finally get it right, you may find yourself applauding not only the number itself, but Cioffi's brilliant solution, and the delightful way Curtains has shown you its evolution.

And then there's "It's a Business," the gritty flip-side of "Show People." The number is sung with a hearty realism to near perfection by Debra Monk, in the role of the show's producer. (It would probably stop the show if Monk's performance were a tad less self-aware of how good it is.) Also turning in outstanding performances are Edward Hibbert as the show's snooty self-obsessed director, who gets laughs with his arch delivery of each and every line ("Johnny, come help me watch you move the piano"), and Megan Sikora as Bambi, the blonde bimbo chorus girl who has one hell of a dance solo (courtesy Rob Ashford's choreography).

Jill Paice's Niki, the sweet and (hopefully) innocent blonde who catches Cioffi's eye, is probably the weakest in the bunch; she sings and dances well, but Paice doesn't show the audience any of what makes Niki irresistible to Cioffi. Jason Danieley plays Aaron, the show's composer, who still misses the romantic relationship he used to have with his writing partner, Georgia. Danieley has a very sweet delivery on his ballad, "I Miss the Music," but it's the first song in the show with predictable lyrics, and it's a real let-down after the comic gold of "What Kind of Man?" and "The Woman's Dead." Georgia, the lyricist who ends up taking over for the deceased diva, is played by Karen Ziemba. Ziemba can sure sell a big number, and is lovely on her ballad; there just seems to be a spark missing from her instant star turn.

Curtains
Debra Monk and Company

Curtains has been evolving for nearly twenty years, continuing on despite the deaths of its original lyricist (Ebb) and book writer (Peter Stone). The production at the Ahmanson still isn't perfect - some of the songs are not up to snuff and some of the performances need tweaking to match the calibre of the really excellent stuff that intermittently features in the show. But, despite its flaws, it is a fast and entertaining two-and-a-half hours that lightens your heart and puts a smile on your face.

Curtains runs at the Ahmanson Theatre through September 10, 2006. For information, see www.centertheatregroup.org

Center Theatre Group -- Ahmanson Theatre -- Michael Ritchie, Artistic Director; Charles Dillingham, Managing Director; Gordon Davidson Founding Artistic Director -- by special arrangement with Roger Berlind, Roger Horchow and Daryl Roth -- presents Curtains. Book by Rupert Holmes; Original Book and Concept by Peter Stone; Music by John Kander; Lyrics by Fred Ebb; Additional Lyrics by John Kander & Rupert Holmes. Set Design by Anna Louizos; Costume Design by William Ivey Long; Lighting Design by Peter Kaczorowski; Sound Design by Brian Ronan; Hair & Wig Design by Paul Huntley; Dance Arrangements by David Chase. Fight Direction by Rick Sordelet; Aerial Effects Design by Paul Rubin; Make-up Design by Angelina Avallone; Associate Choreographer Joann M. Hunter; Casting by Jim Carnahan; Production Supervisor Beverly Randolph; Technical Supervisor Peter Fulbright; Associate Producer Kelley Kirkpatrick. Orchestrations William David Brohn; Music Director/Vocal Arrangements David Loud; Choreography by Rob Ashford; Directed by Scott Ellis.

Cast:
Randy Weinstein - Jim Newman
Niki Harris - Jill Paice
Jessica Cranshaw - Patty Goble
Bobby Pepper - Noah Racey
Johnny Harmon - Michael X. Martin
Roberta Wooster - Darcie Roberts
Bambi Bernstein - Megan Sikora
Georgia Hendricks - Karen Ziemba
Aaron Fox - Jason Danieley
Carmen Bernstein - Debra Monk
Oscar Shapiro - Michael McCormick
Christopher Belling - Edward Hibbert
Lieutenant Frank Cioffi - David Hyde Pierce
Mona Page - Mary Ann Lamb
Harv Fremont - Matt Farnsworth
Sidney Bernstein - Robert Walden
Detective O'Farrell - David Eggers
Daryl Grady - John Bolton
Arlene Barucca - Nili Bassman
Brick Hawvermale - Ward Billeisen
Jan Setler - Jennifer Dunne
Roy Stetson - David Eggers
Connie Subbotin - Patty Goble
Peg Prentice - Brittany Marcin
Ronnie Driscoll - Joe Aaron Reid
Russ Cocharn - Christopher Spaulding

Photos by Craig Schwartz


- Sharon Perlmutter






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