Blast from the Past: Curtains

This is my review of the pre-broadway, out-of-town tryout of “Curtain” by John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Rupert Holmes.   This was before it went to New York (and probably before the show was locked.)  It ended up running 15 months, so my prediction wasn’t far off.  The original review was posted 2006 – August –  02.

Last night (August 1, 2006) I saw “Curtains” at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. The show is being presented in Los Angeles prior to a planed New York run, and as such it should be noted that changes may exist between the performance I saw and any subsequent performan ce.

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First off, the play is a very enjoyable night at the theatre. I don’t remember having as much fun since I saw “Drowsy Chaperone” at the Ahmanson seven months ago. What is also evident from the performances is the cast is loving being on stage in the show. (Additionally as there was no traffic I made it to the theatre very early and several lof the cast were having dinner in the courtyard outside the theatre, they were discussing the usual issues of a show — missed costume changes, late entreneces etc. but they were so excited about the work they were doing. Having seen several shows recently where the cast was simply walking through the show, it is delightful to see one where they are truly excited.)

Most of the score is wonderful. There is a wonderful play between the songs of ‘Robbin Hood,’ the play within the play, and the book numbers from “Curtains.” My biggest concern that the act I closer (of both “Curtains” and ‘Robbin Hood’), a song called ‘Thataway!’ is a fairly weak song. The dance and staging save most of the audience from noticing, but as a song, it did not send me joyfully into intermission. My second worry is the opening number, “Wide Open Spaces,’ which is supposed to be the Finale of ‘Robbin Hood.’ Again, the staging is fun, and Eventually the audience figures out that it is supposed to be bad — but I worry that some audience members may be turned off at the very top of the show.

My theatre going partner had issues with the number “It’s a Business,” although much more on the staging than the song. (Debra Monk sings the song, and frankly I’d listen to her sing the phone book if John Kander scored it, so I may be a bit biased.)

The score includes some great numbers, “What Kind of Man”, “He Did It”, “The Woman’s Dead”, “Tough Act to Follow”, and “I miss the Music.” It also includes a song called “Show People” that I swear I’ve heard before with slightly altered lyrics, but I cannot for the life of me place where I have heard it — its been driving me mad since the melody first hit my ears last night (the altered lyrics are along the same lines, more like I’ve heard an earlier draft of the lyrics)

Rupert Holmes’ book is fast moving, intelligent and witty. My biggest concern with the book is that it is theatre about theatre. I worry that many audience members (especially as it attempts to maintain a long run in New York) will not inherently know what Equity is or what an Equity Deputy is or what much of the “stage lingo” is about. The script seems to explain understudy well before the understudy jokes, but several others (like Equity) are not explained. The teenagers behind me were asking questions about that to their chaperone, who also didn’t know the answer.

From a production stand point, William Ivey Long’s costumes are (as always) right on the money. The only exception to this is that Patty Goble (as the dead leading lady) looks more of a “star” than Karen Ziemba as her replacement. (I think it is the red wig that Goble wears — it makes her stand out in the ‘Robbin Hood’ bits visually that Ziemba does not). Ana Louizos’ set makes a nice distintion between “back stage” and “Robbin Hood.” Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting was effective (especially the first entrence of David Hyde Pierce — what a cue, what staging, what moment!). My only suggestion to Louizos and Kaczorowski (and frankly director Scott Ellis) is to take a performance and sit in the upper levels (Our seats were mid lower balcony, and there were some moments in staging, and design that might want to be reconsidered — nothing outrageously awful, but some moments that show cracks in an otherwise carefully constructed evening). William David Brohn’s orchestrations are fine, but nothing special. His work is best during the ‘Robbin Hood’ numbers and merely serviceable otherwise. Rob Ashford’s choreography is great both in ‘Robbin Hood’ and in the book songs. In the book songs, he allows the individual characters to color the choreography, where as in ‘Robbin Hood’ the dancing is tight and together, like a classic Broadway chorus. Scott Ellis’s direction plays up the “romance set during a murder mystery back stage at a theatre” side of the show. I worry that future productions will forget that and emphasize the back stage aspects much to the detriment of the play. (And if I have any suggestions to the Holmes, it would be to play up the characters and the romance a bit more in the script, and allow backstage to be the backdrop and not the focus of the story — and what needs to be included due to plot, have it explained to the audience a bit clearer)

Now to talk about the cast. In a word, Wonderful. Everyone on that stage from the leads to the ensemble are fully developed characters fully commited to the show, and having lots of fun. Their excitement certainly translates across the footlights to those of us in the dark. Patty Goble is delectably horrid as (soon to be dead) star Jessica Cranshaw. Megan Sikora stands out as the producers daughter who wants to be a star more than anything else. Jason Danieley’s big voice and big heart make a big impression. Edward Hibbert steals almost every scene he is in as a conceited egotistical director (By the way, how is Drowsy doing without him — he was a stand out there as well). Jill Paice, as Niki (Pierce’s love interest), is charming and daffy and lovely with a great voice. Our three stars: David Hyde Pierce, Debra Monk and Karen Ziemba sparkle the entire night. (Pierce forgot his Boston accent in a few moments during the show — but I didn’t notice until it suddenly “came back”).

With some minor book revisions, and possibly some song revisions the song should do very well in NYC (probably not the record breaking run of Phantom, but a healthy 18 months or so — more if it can snag a few Tonys (especially for Ms. Monk), and keep (or replace well) the talented and excited cast — there is no room for slackers anywhere in the show).

One final note — David Loud, the music director, has a charming “cameo” as Sasha, ‘Robin Hood’ s musical director — and a delightful solo.


2 responses to “Blast from the Past: Curtains

  1. I saw CURTAINS in NY, not in LA. When I first saw it during previews…I fell in love with it. I understand that they did work on the show before it came to NY and during previews, but in spite of inherent flaws I still smiled for 2 1/2 hours. I wanted to go back again and again (and did). The ensemble was terrific and I found that I could watch anyone at any time – whether they had lines or not – and be very entertained. I had never seen Debra Monk, David Hyde Pierce or Karen Ziemba on stage until this show and it made me an instant fan – particularly of Ziemba.

    So yes – nice predictions! It ran almost 18 months, and there were Tony noms for the 3 lead actors (and I was one of the few who picked Pierce to win in my Tony pool).

    I will only disagree with one issue you had about the Jessica Cranshaw costume. I had no problem with the Georgia Hendricks character not standing out as much as the Jessica Cranshaw character costume-wise. Frankly, when Ziemba is on the stage, I can’t tear my eyes away from her. Cranshaw’s charcter is a film star who has no business being in a Broadway show and I think she looks exactly how that character expects to look starring in this show. I always thought Georgia looked how the writers wanted the lead to look, but Jessica wouldn’t hear of not being glammed up. But that’s just my take.

  2. Caroline, Thanks for your comment. I love hearing from folks who were able to see new works after I see them. It is great learning what changes the writers and directors made. Last night I had the opportunity to see a community theatre production of a show I had seen in its LA (pre-Broadway) tryout. My husband and I compared notes to the changes is both plot, songs and lines. Every show is developed for the cast that is appearing in it, and changes are a necessary part of development, but they are always fascinating.

    I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it in New York. I still think I would have liked the “movie star” toned down a bit or Karen Ziemba glammed (I know that’s not really a word) up a smidge once she “took over” the role. I expect your interoperation of the reasoning is what the writers/designers/directer were going for, it just felt a bit off to me.

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