First, though, I can hardly say a single bad thing about the lovely cast and band and crew in this 80th Season finale for the venerable Kirkwood Theatre Guild. Everyone on stage and in the pit is good, and Kent Coffel (as the larger-than-life director in Curtains' back-stage story) is quite magnificent. Well, some of the other performers may have lacked the full measure of confidence; and Alan Aguilar (as the star-struck detective in this musical whodunit) has a few elocution problems. But he persists, and even survives this unbearably bad, penultimate Kander and Ebb effort.
True, the book did win the Drama Desk award for excellence in 2007, but (against much better-reviewed shows like Legally Blonde and Spring Awakening) it may have been a split-decision, or even a "pity vote." But pity won't do you any good four years later and a thousand miles away. In fact, when Broadway critics sympathetically honor (and implicitly promote) a show like this to theaters across the country, the voting members of the Drama Desk ought to seriously consider the possibility of "downstream artistic pollution."
The chief problem is the long, long scene changes. But, given that the Kirkwood company has long enjoyed one of the best set-building crews of any amateur theater in St. Louis, how can there be so much wasted time spent in changing the scenery? The answer may be in two parts. First and foremost, there's the wildly impractical nature of the storytelling, which takes us back-stage, and then out-front, and then back again. The second reason is purely speculative, and less plausible: that the old-timers who were so reliable behind-the-scenes in Kirkwood for years and years have turned the shop over to new cadre of new set designers and carpenters, without so much experience to draw on. But who knows? Probably, set designer Stephanie Draper and Master Carpenter Doug Chapis are every bit as good as the old timers. It's just that the 180 degree set-changes they're asked to make work quickly and repeatedly are simply impossible, when your budget is in the tens of thousands of dollars, and not the tens of millions.
Earlier, I said there were hardly any grounds for complaint about the actors. But maybe the original Broadway cast was blessed with some great gift of satire that made the usual tropes of bad theater seem wacky and off-beat in a way that steady, genuine Midwesterners cannot quite fathom. Director Adam Grun did manage to get his entire cast on stage with nice, naturalistic performancesthough now he's got his hands full with the unworkable technical side of the project. He's lucky to have choreographer Kimberly Klick and musical director Justin Smolik to spruce things up whenever possible (and the chorus work developed by Mr. Smolik is sometimes startlingly good). It's just a terrible, thoughtless book, with terrible, thoughtless "songs" splattered against it.
Still and all, Joy Powell and Jeff Wright are very good as Mr. Stone's (and post-mortem collaborator Rupert Holmes') approximation of a 1959-era Comden and Green. And Laura Kyro, Bert Wunderlich and Tom Day, as backers and producers, supply a high level of professionalism that this property doesn't really deserve. Nisrine Omri is very personable and reliable as the girl who gets involved with the detective, and Sara Rae Womack and Tim Grumich are charming, too. David DeRose is highly credible as the stage manager, and Don Knobbe is excellent as a glowering Boston critic.
But the only remotely "show-stopping moments" (other than those stultifying scene changes) are when somebody gets killed on stage. And yet I fear that, even with a cast of thousands, there could never be enough murder in Curtains to placate the feelings you'll have, angrily trudging back to your car, two hours and forty minutes later.
Through May 7, 2011, at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, at the south end of the Kirkwood Recreation Center, 111 South Geyer Road. For more information call (314) 821-9956 or visit them on-line at www.ktg-onstage.org.