The action takes place in Boston where producers traditionally tried out new musicals before their work faced the ruthless New York critics. As you’d expect the theatre in our story is filled with brassy dames, squeaky chorus girls, fractious cast members and preening, anxious creative types.
Of course there’s also a diva leading lady but she’s murdered at the end of the opening number, so a detective turns up with a talent for fixing a show and the relationships around him. Two tedious hours later he also unmasks the killer and hooks up with an actress via many superfluous and forgettable production numbers.
Death, actual and fictional, stalked this musical from the start. It’s based on an idea by Peter Stone who died before it was finished as did the original lyricist Fred Ebb. In their absence it was completed by Rupert Holmes and Ebb’s long term collaborator, the composer, John Kander.
Between them Kander and Ebb wrote several undisputed masterpieces of mid 20th century musical theatre including CABARET, CHICAGO & KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, and if that weren’t enough their songs included the classic NEW YORK, NEW YORK.
With such pedigree from the contributing writers you can understand why producers might think CURTAINS is worth a punt. The trouble is, it really isn’t.
The plot is ridiculously convoluted and there isn’t one decent song although the composer in the story does sing a song about missing his collaborator which is moving considering the show’s actual composer, John Kander, must have been in mourning for his regular lyricist, Fred Ebb, when it was written.
I first saw it in New York when formidable Broadway forces and A-list stars were thrown at it. There were Tony nominations and awards (it was a thin season for musicals) but ultimately it fizzled out, both as you watched it and at the box office.
If the show didn’t work in a Broadway spectacular it certainly doesn’t work in the current UK revival starring TV quiz and reality show comedian Jason Manford (endearing throughout as the homicide detective) Rebbeca Lock (who amusingly plays the ruthless producer like Ethel Merman) and a talented and hard working cast many of whom are blatantly too young to be playing seasoned show-biz veterans.
There are certain production announcements that make me wince and fear for the producer’s sanity and mortgage payments. I’m sure the Wyndham’s Theatre gave them a very good rental deal to bring this touring show in and fill a gap in their schedule after THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT bombed and closed early. But I predict they’ll still lose a lot of money; CURTAINS just isn’t special enough to compete in the Christmas market against shows like MARY POPPINS and WICKED.
Watching a matinee of CURTAINS might be a diverting way of passing a rainy afternoon. But it’s little more than that.