SALT LAKE CITY — Curtains is a backstage musical within a musical that seems to be written by “show people” for “show people.” The main story line of the murder mystery is simple: at the end of the opening night performance of a new musical, Robbin’ Hood, the leading (and much despised) lady is murdered. The local detective shows up and quarantines all the cast and crew while he tries to solve the case. This detective also happens to be a huge musical theatre fan and has ideas on how to fix the problems with the show.
Curtains opened on Broadway in 2007 but had a complicated process getting there. The original book and concept were by Peter Stone who passed away. Then Rupert Holmes worked on the book with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. Ebb also passed before the writing was completed, so additional lyrics were written by Kander and Holmes. Kander and Ebb worked together to create Cabaret and Chicago, so I was expecting a big band musical vamp full of showstoppers. Perhaps because of the uneven process, the musical itself feels very uneven and jarring. It seems to have the main elements that should make for a great musical but that simply didn’t come together in an engaging way.
Because of the uneven book, the performance at the Grand Theatre comes off a little clunky. It is decidedly more the fault of the material itself than the performers. The stage direction of David Hanson uses the space well and makes good use of the spaces designed by scenic designer Halee Rasmussen. Because the show is a musical within a musical, there are several big scene changes to distinguish the two experiences. Large sets represent the inner play with the real lives of the characters taking place in the more stark and unadorned spaces. I enjoyed this design choice because it gave great distinction.
I also appreciated the costume design by Shannon McCullock. Many costumes are required for this particular play. Because the play is set in 1959 in Boston the characters are given regular period clothes, but because the characters are putting on a play set in the Old West, many costumes have to reflect that time period, too. All the costumes also have to allow free movement for the choreography. The only design I didn’t like was during the big number at the end of Act I when the characters were supposed to be saloon girls. The design was simply a corset with a small skirt and felt like an afterthought when compared to the other costumes throughout.
The notable showstopping numbers are, “Wide Open Spaces,” “Show People,” and “Thataway.” These songs are reminiscent of Oklahoma! and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and feature excellent choreography by Christine Moore. The dance numbers are very well executed by the ensemble. I particularly enjoyed the pas de deux of the characters Bambi (Corinne Adair) and Bobby (Wyatt Hendricks) in the number, “Kansasland.”
Despite the big numbers being full of spectacle, I preferred the small features in this show as they showed more heart. The first solo that stands out in the show is, “Thinking of Him,” sung by the character of Georgia, played by Britty Marie. Marie’s voice is clean, and she beautifully interprets this song to highlight one of the few subplots in the play. The other notable ballad is, “I Miss the Music,” in which the show within the show’s composer, Aaron (Marshall Madsen), sings about his feelings of loneliness and how hard it is to write without his lyricist, Georgia, who is now his ex-wife and the replacement star. Madsen’s tenor is velvety and rich and made this number my favorite song of the show.
A superb performance is also given by Camille Van Wagoner, who plays Carmen, the show’s brassy producer. Wagoner has an amazing belt voice. Her number, “It’s a Business,” is one of the big numbers that excelled. Lead Daniel Beecher, playing Detective Cioffi, seems to struggle over his lines at times, but Beecher has a nice voice and good chemistry with his character’s love interest, Niki (Michelle Lynn Thompson).
While most of the singing is quite good, especially the ballads, there are a few numbers that struggle for different reasons. The number, “He Did It,” is muddled and could have used better diction from the ensemble. The show focuses on work-shopping a song called, “In the Same Boat,” for the musical within the musical that eventually comes together in a grand quodlibet of all the parts sung together. The number felt very lengthy to finally get to the complete version.
Overall, the production fell just short. There are many parts that must come together to make a musical shine. The singing and dancing were overall robust and were supported by some excellent technical choices, but the book itself felt flawed and uneven in its storytelling. Unfortunately, many of the melodies are simplistic with few opportunities for harmony. Curtains promises to be a big, glitzy musical, but comes off feeling a bit drab.