Kander & Ebb’s Curtains – Guildhall School of Music & Drama

The musical comedy whodunit, book by Rupert Holmes, music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, with additional lyrics by Kander and Holmes

Jessica Cranshaw – Sophie Colquhoun
Randy Dexter – David Walmsley
Niki Harris – Eleanor Wyld
Bambi Bernet – Emma Fischer
Bobby Pepper – Nikesh Patel
Johnny Harmon – Harry Lister Smith
Georgia Hendricks – Lily James
Aaron Fox – Henry Gilbert
Carmen Bernstein – Paloma Oakenfold
Oscar Shapiro – Terry Doe
Christopher Belling – Patrick Osborne
Lieutenant Frank Cioffi – Fred Lancaster
Mona Page – Isabel Ellison
Harv Fremont / Daryl Grady – Mark Stanley
Roberta Wooster – Verity Dearsley
Sidney Bernstein – Omar Gonzalez
Detective O’Farrell / Marjorie Cook – Amy Strange
Arlene Barruca – Chloe Treharne
Roy Stetson – Joshua O’Connor
Jane Irving – Bethan Langford
Brick Hawvermale – Joshua Mills
Jane Setler – Anna Elijasz
Connie Subbotin – Annabella Ellis
Peg Prentice – Marene Vanholk
Ronnie Driscoll – James Danaswamy
Gillian Land – Laura Ruhi Vidal
Russ Cochran – Adam Sullivan

GSMD Orchestra
Steven Edis

Martin Connor – Director
Bill Deamer – Choreographer
Tom Rogers – Designer
Mark Jonathan – Lighting Designer
Steve Mayo – Sound Designer
Hazel Chloe Morris – Costume Supervisor

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 9 July, 2010
Venue: Silk Street Theatre, Barbican, London

Composer John Kander (born 1927) and lyricist Fred Ebb (1928-2004) contributed much to the Broadway musical by bringing fresh ideas and unusual subjects to a traditional, hidebound genre. Their first show together was “Flora, the Red Menace” (1965) written for Liza Minnelli with whom they often worked as she was receptive to anything they threw at her. She was in the film version of Kander & Ebb’s “Cabaret” (1972) which Bob Fosse opened out, making it a more believable study in decadence than the original stage musical of 1966 permitted. Their other shows included “The Happy Time” and “Zorba” (both 1968), and “70, Girls, 70”, an endearing study of the inhabitants of an old-folks’ home who turn to crime, the subject based on a stage comedy, “A Touch of Spring”, written by Peter Coke (of “Paul Temple” fame), which was also filmed as “Make Mine Mink”. Then came the biggie, “Chicago” (1975), which was a decent enough success in New York and London in 1975 but an even bigger hit when revived in 1996, since when it has run continuously on Broadway and in the West End. The 2002 film with Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones was also a great success.

“The Act” (1978) and “The Rink” (1984), both written for Minnelli, were reasonable enough but lost money in their fairly short runs. “Woman of the Year” (1981) was based on an old Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn film. As a vehicle for Lauren Bacall and later Raquel Welch and Debbie Reynolds, it played well on Broadway and was a huge hit in Argentina where it is about to get another revival. “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (1992) with Chita Rivera in the title role began life in London and went to Broadway and Buenos Aires. “Steel Pier” (1997) had a short run but “Fosse” (1999), an anthology revue of the choreography of Bob Fosse, did over one-thousand performances on Broadway and ran for nearly a year in London.

“Curtains”, first staged in 2006, was one of the last shows on which Kander & Ebb collaborated before Ebb died. It is based on a concept by Peter Stone who died in 2003, leaving the piece unfinished. Rupert Holmes took over the writing of the book. Another show, the very last project by Kander & Ebb, is due to be staged on Broadway later this year, “The Scottsboro Boys”, about a famous 1930s trial of African-American teenagers accused of raping white women in Memphis, Tennessee, a travesty of justice that led to the formation of the American Civil Rights movement. This material sounds promising and hopefully the Kander & Ebb partnership will bow out on something worthwhile.

Meanwhile, “Curtains” – a very minor piece of frippery that had a good run of over a year on Broadway, mainly because the star was David Hyde Pierce who received a Tony Award for his performance as show-tune-loving detective Frank Cioffi. The time is 1959, the place Boston, Massachusetts, and the curtain comes down on the first night of a terrible Western musical based on the legend of Robin Hood. Jessica Cranshaw, the leading lady, is awful and the show gets panned by the press. The British director, Christopher Belling, a rather camp soul in the mould of Noël Coward, decides to save the show by replacing the leading lady with a better performer, Georgia Hendricks. Enter Cioffi who, although he loved the show, has to announce that Jessica was murdered. After that the plot thickens impenetrably, involving so many characters that it is difficult to keep up! There are two further murders but in a ‘musical-comedy whodunit’ we don’t really care who gets bumped off.

Although there are some good songs, such as ‘Wide Open Spaces’, ‘Show People’, ‘I Miss the Music’ and ‘Thataway!’, and Kander & Ebb have a good go at pastiche Rodgers & Hammerstein, the show feels as if it were their first attempts at a musical rather than almost their last. This really is junior league stuff. That said, the members of the Guildhall School of Music seem to be having a blast and do their best to raise the material above the mundane. It’s an ideal show for an amateur group, although the present company are near-professional now, and they show off their not insignificant skills of comedy acting, singing and dancing to full effect. Fred Lancaster exhibits a certain insouciance as the musical cop, Frank Cioffi, while Patrick Osborne’s ‘camp’ director, Christopher Belling, is genuinely funny with many of the best put-down lines. Paloma Oakenfold as Carmen, the hard-boiled co-producer, brings an edge to the proceedings, and Sophie Colquhoun as Jessica, the untalented and subsequently dead leading-lady, recalls the worst aspects of Lina Lamont in “Singin’ in the Rain”.

Martin Connor, who has done excellent work on behalf of the genre of the musical at Guildhall School, keeps everybody moving at the speed of light, while Bill Deamer’s choreography gives the whole thing a much-needed lift. The orchestra under Steven Edis plays up a storm but finally it is the material, inconsequential as it is, albeit entertaining too, that just does not rise to the occasion. It is perhaps best to draw a veil over “Curtains”.

  • Curtains is at the Silk Street Theatre, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Silk Street, Barbican, London EC2 on 12, 13 & 14 July 2010
  • Guildhall School
  • Barbican
  • Tickets 020 7638 8891

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