Featuring an all-star cast, a laugh-a minute-book and a traditional yet cheeky broadway score, The Production Company have sensationally opened the Australian professional premiere of Curtains. With a book by Rupert Holmes and score by renowned writing duo Kander and Ebb, this musical premiered on Broadway in 2007 for a 500 performance run but failed to gain international momentum, making it a perfect choice for a short Production Company season.
Curtains is a murder mystery of a musical within a musical. A backstage whodunnit, where the whole company of fictional musical Robbin’ Hood become suspects to the murder of the show’s lackluster star, Jessica Cranshaw. Cranshaw is woeful in her performance, and with negative opening night critiques threatening the show’s longevity, her removal would be seen to benefit every member of the company, ultimately saving the show. Enter Lieutenant Frank Cioffi, a detective with a deep love of dramatic arts, who must tow the line between his excitement at being backstage with the cast he thoroughly admires, and doing his professional duty to solve the murder. The show has many references that music theatre aficionados will revel in, and in particular pokes good fun with parodying moments of classics such as Oklahoma! and Kiss me Kate.
The Production Company, on the whole, have done a rather brilliant job of staging this production. Although there are elements of staging, such as placing the orchestra on stage, which are particular to the Production Company’s presentation style, their latest offering presents a more fully realised staging than many of their concert-style productions.Director Roger Hodgman has done a wonderful job of staging this show within a show, highlighting and differentiating live performance and rehearsal time from backstage and behind-the-scenes storytelling. Dana Jolly excels at infusing energetic choreography and stylised movement throughout the piece and John Foreman expertly leads the 15 member orchestra and cast through the classic score without so much as a hiccup of sound. He also plays the role of musical director Sasha Iljinsky, complete with Russian accent and a lovely solo as act two opens.
Christina Smith reigns in a minimal set design over many different scenes, using various curtains and braced structures to depict various locations around the theatre and stage. Scene changes are swift and fluid, no doubt thanks to stage manager Meg Deyell and technical director David Miller. Esther Marie Hayes’ costumes are colourful, bright and appropriately convey various stereotypes of some of the key characters. Lighting designer Matthew Scott does fine job of lighting up the stage, but particularly impressive were the more subtle and intimate moments seamlessly created on the large State Theatre stage.
Fresh from the Australasian international tour of Les Miserables in which he played the emotionally demanding role of Jean Valjean is acclaimed music theatre star, Simon Gleeson. Gleeson is endearing, bubbly, delightfully socially awkward and somewhat geeky at times as the lovable Leiutennant Frank Cioffi. He plays the role with incredible heart and perfectly funny comic timing and nuance, constantly surprising the audience with his distracting love for the theatre amid the murder investigation. His performance alone is worth the price of admission.
As his love interest, rising starlet Nikki Harris, Alinta Chidzey is suitably delightful and crush-worthy. Chidzey is a true triple threat and this role allows her plenty of room to show her talents. ‘A tough act to Follow’ sees Chidzey share an amusingly enthralling dream sequence with Gleeson, providing one of the show’s most heart warming production numbers.
Alex Rathgeber and Lucy Maunder play separated partners and writing duo, Aaron Fox and Georgia Hendrix. The two work well opposite each other in the more serious roles as they navigate re-writes, adjusting to being separated, hoping to rekindle their romance and Georgia’s eventual return to the stage. Rathgeber’s voice in particular carries a mature tone beautifully across the auditorium.
Melissa Langton gives a gutsy performance as Carmen Bernstein. It is a wonderful treat to see this regular supporting actor take a turn at a leading role. Langton owns every minute of her time on stage. Her ballsy ‘It’s a Business’ is one of the most rousing anthems of the night.
Colin Lane, of comedy-duo Lano & Woodley fame, plays Christopher Belling, Robbin’ Hood‘s director. Lane’s characterisation is spot on as the slightly flamboyant and dramatic British director, however his accent is jarring throughout the performance and falls uncomfortably somewhere between British and Australian.
Crowd favourite John Wood returns to the production company as Sidney Bernstein, Carmen’s philandering and business-minded husband.
Playing the squeaky, aspiring understudy Bambi Bernèt, Zoe Coppinger is absolutely delightful. Her solo dance is perhaps a little less fluid, but the duo with Jared Bryan as the bubbly Bobby Pepper provides another fun moment for the audience.
While only briefly on stage, Production Company favourite Nicki Wendt is hilariously woeful as Robbin’ Hood‘s original star leading lady, Jessica Cranshaw. Wendt makes the most of missing her cues, singing off-key and overplaying her dialogue to rapturous effect.
The ensemble’s execution of choreography is tight and the opening number ‘Wide Open Spaces’ begins the show with aplomb. They particularly sound fantastic in ‘She’s dead’ where they offer most ghostly and hallowing respects to their recently deceased cast member.
Curtains is playing until the 28th of August at the Arts Centre Melbourne. The production is fresh, clever and witty from top to tail. I’d recommend it particularly to musical theatre lovers who would like to see a less commercial production get a large scale treatment.