Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Curtains - Review

Landor Theatre, London
Book: Rupert Holmes
Music: John Kander
Lyrics: Fred Ebb
Original book and concept: Peter Stone
Additional lyrics: John Kander and Rupert Holmes

Director: Robert McWhir

This review was first published on The Public Reviews

Curtains is a complex yet frivolous piece of musical theatre from Kander and Ebb. Having satirised Nazi Germany and the American penal and justice system with Cabaret and Chicago, this work, in its first professional UK production, sees the writers fix their satirical cannon on show-business itself.
The show opens with a theatrical troupe performing “Robbin Hood” in Boston, en route to a hopeful transfer to Broadway. When the leading lady is poisoned on stage, Lieutenant Cioffi arrives, forbidding the entire cast to leave the theatre until the crime is solved. What then follows is a whodunnit, and several more deaths, with each member of the company’s motives and alibis in turn challenged by Cioffi. Of course as the genre demands, each cast member appears to have a troublesome skeleton in their closet for the detective to eliminate.
Kander and Ebb’s wit shines through most of the show, with an early number that sets its sights on theatre critics, What Kind of Man ? ( ie would be a critic ) causing much mirth on press night.
Leading the cast is Jeremy Legat as Cioffi. Clearly the most stagey of cops, Cioffi has a love for musical theatre, and a hilarious knack for giving notes to the company as their rehearsals continue, that prove to be spot on in improving the show within a show. Legat’s youthful experience shows and he leads the production with assured professionalism that is neither arrogant nor scene-stealing. The one regret of the evening is that more solos are not afforded to his character. Legat’s voice in Coffee Shop Nights and A Tough Act To Follow is sublime. Buster Skeggs is a convincing Carmen Bernstein a co-producer of the show. Her role calls for overstated energy and drive, and she delivers a tough New York shtick that at times leaves her breathless.
One can easily forget that this show is being staged in ‘a room above a pub’. The production calls for adult actors that span a broad spectrum of ages and generations and Andrew Keates as casting director has assembled a stunning 20 strong troupe. Some, like Bryan Kennedy who’s camp director, Christopher Belling is a masterclass in controlled understatement, have years of talent under their belt. When reminded that he is a suspect in a murder enquiry, Kennedy’s foppish reply that “its an honour just to be nominated” is a moment of comic genius. Other performers like Stephanie Parker, murdered in the shows opening and then ensemble member, are recent drama school graduates. There is not a weak link amongst them.
McWhir has again helmed a production of magical potential in this South London venue. Under his direction, Martin Thomas has produced a set that is as detailed as it is imaginative, bringing countless fly ropes and even a proscenium arch into the modestly sized performance space, yet still allowing room for dance numbers of stunning vivacity and impact that are a credit to choreographer Robbie O’Reilly. Rachel Dingle’s costumes have been meticulously assembled and lend authenticity to both Robbin Hood, as well as the shows real-time context and Michael Webborn musical director, leads his 5 piece band perfectly. One criticism is that female company voice work is at times inaudible, but there is plenty of time to set that straight.
The show’s programme runs to an impressive 24 pages and its meticulous design hints at the tremendous commitment to excellence in production values that motivate both McWhir and Keates. London is famed for its theatre, both West End and off. In this Olympian summer, Curtains contributes to that outstanding reputation.

Runs until September 1st

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