Curtains is a new musical that feels like an old one. With a plot right out of Whodunit 101, some stock-ish characters, and a traditional musical theatre score, there's a great air of familiarity—without the tiresome self-reference quality seen in some many new musicals of the last ten years. Though the plot is of a well-worn comic style of film and stage, there are some fresh twists, and the new score by John Kander and Fred Ebb (with additional lyrics by Rupert Holmes) is familiar in style but has several superb songs. But the plot is not served well by Rupert Holmes (who knows his way around a funny whodunit), who was hired to rewrite a book conceived by the late Peter Stone. Some of the comic lines are funny, mostly in the first act, but many are deadly and the show seems to just not want to end (it takes forever for the killer to be revealed, even after the detective has solved the crime. Just tell us, already). It's difficult to know how much of the drag is due to pacing (Charles Repole directs), and how much is inevitable in the show. Either way, a semi-strong first act does not prepare us for the interminable second.

During the curtain call of a production of the Broadway bound Robbin' Hood of the Old West at the Colonial Theater in 1959 Boston, a murder has been committed. Everyone involved in the show hated the deceased, and thus everyone is a suspect. Detective Frank Cioffi (Malcolm Gets) is on hand to sequester the suspects and solve the crime, while fulfilling a musical theatre fantasy of being part of the show—which puts him alternately on duty and in awe. The score writing team is former couple Aaron Fox (Rob Sutton) and Georgia Hendricks (Danette Holden), and Georgia is now called to replace the murdered leading lady, which puts her in an on stage (and possibly offstage) romance with leading man Bobby Pepper (David Elder). Another fractured relationship is found in the husband and wife producing team of Sidney (Stuart Zagnit) and Carmen Bernstein (Sally Struthers).

There are plusses in this show, including some fine moments in the new-to-us score by Kander & Ebb. "Show People" is of the showstopper style, with witty lyrics and an uplifting, fun personality showcased by the cast. "Coffee Shop Nights" is a low-key, wistful moment for Cioffi. "I Miss the Music," a beautiful torch song in which on-stage composer Aaron expresses his love for departed lyricist Georgia, is a quite poignant tribute to the longtime writing partnership of Curtains composer Kander (who is said to have written the lyrics for this song) & lyricist Ebb. "A Tough Act to Follow" is a winning duet for Cioffi, ingenue Niki (Ashley Spencer) and company, and a highlight.

The cast is a bit uneven, though they hopefully have jelled after a few performances. I don't think Gets really had his footing at the opening performance, though he shows enthusiasm for the part, and is well cast as the sensitive theatre-loving Cioffi. Ashley Spencer is a bit dull as Niki, though she sings very well. As potential suspects, all of the characters must be played in a way to tease the audience into being constantly unsure of their guilt or innocence; Spencer is less successful than others at doing this. Holden is fine as writer/performer Georgia, but could be so much more. As writer Aaron, Sutton gives a knockout performance of "I Miss the Music" and does as much as he can with a weak role. Struthers really pulls the audience along with her, through some quite nice musical moments and a series of bawdy one-liners given to the character Carmen. The ensemble of CLO singer-dancers is energetic and performs very well, with some interesting choreography by Michael Lichtefeld.

J Branson's set design is high quality for a CLO week of performances and Debbie Roberts' costumes, especially for the ensemble, are top notch.

Curtains runs through June 27 at the Benedum Center. Remaining shows in the CLO season are The Producers (July 6-18), Hairspray (July 20 - August 1) and The Student Prince (August 3-8). For schedule and tickets, call 412-456-6666, visit or or the Box Office at Theater Square.

Photo: Matt Polk

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-- Ann Miner

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