It starts out about as confrontational as a light musical comedy can get. The effect of sitting quietly in a small room above a pub when a dozen costumed cast members burst out into the room at arm’s length, belting a Broadway show tune in unison while accompanied by a live band is a little jarring, to say the least. It’s easy to feel like you’ve been grabbed by throat when the cast are close enough to actually do so, and that crazed, inhuman look that people get when they communicate their emotions through song and dance makes you think they just might.
Thankfully, the play doesn’t maintain this volume of exuberance for long. The opening number’s Broadway extravagance really belongs to the play-within-a-play, Robbin’ Hood, while the rest of Curtains has a (slightly) darker tone as an irreverent backstage murder mystery with a rising body count.
Set in 1950′s Boston, it’s centred around the death of Robbin’ Hood’s inept leading lady during the opening night curtain call. Enter police detective and part-time musical theatre enthusiast Frank Cioffi, whose focus drifts between solving the case and providing notes to the cast on improving the production.
The inside jokes about working in the theatre can be overly winking, while a few of the numbers are a bit heart-on-sleeve, but for the most part Curtains finds the right comedic balance, and much of the writing is genuinely sharp and funny.
The production feels like something of a showcase for its overwhelmingly younger cast, a number of whom are graduates from the Guildford School of Acting. Josh Wilmott as cast member Randy Dexter is a highlight when it comes to comic timing, while Fiona O’Carroll as lyricist Georgia Hendricks impresses with her emotive singing. The older cast members hold up their end as well, with Bryan Kennedy giving a particularly memorable turn as the show’s ridiculously flamboyant director Christopher Belling.
For a murder mystery, it’s a mildly unsettling coincidence that two of the musical’s original authors passed away while working on the piece. The book was left unfinished by author Peter Stone at the time of his death, while lyricist Fred Ebb also passed away in the act of trying to complete the (apparently cursed) play. Ebb and composer John Kander are/were best known as the duo behind Cabaret and Chicago, and Curtains certainly has the bold and brassy mark of their earlier work.
Performed at the Landor Theatre until the 1st September.