Kander and Ebb are probably most well-known for Cabaret and Chicago, but they have plenty of other shows in their canon – the latest of which to be revived is Curtains. This production, starring Jason Manford, has been touring the UK since October and is now enjoying a limited West End stint over Christmas. It will be at the Wyndham’s Theatre until January, when it will head back out on the road again.
We begin as the opening night performance of a new Wild West Robin Hood musical is drawing to an end at the Colonial Theatre in Boston. Fading star Jessica Cranshaw is murdering the score – but before long she’s murdered too! Though it does seem to solve one of the problems of the show’s terrible reviews, it lands the entire cast, crew and creative team under ‘theatre arrest’ as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (detective and am dram enthusiast) steps in to solve the murder. But as the body count rises, will he be able to save any other potential targets? And more importantly, will he help to solve the mystery of In the Same Boat and the writing team’s romantic problems ready for the show to be re-reviewed?
I went into the show quite tentatively, as I wasn’t familiar with it and was unsure as to what I should expect; Kander and Ebb, to me, suggested the glamour & darkness of the 1920s & 1930s – a musical comedy, not so much. Leave any preconceptions at the door, as Curtains is a barnstorming show with plenty of intrigue, and laughs by the bucketload. It is quite heavy on theatrical in-jokes, so regular theatregoers, people working in the industry and, indeed, critics will probably get the most out of it (as long as the latter have remembered to bring their sense of humour) – however, there’s plenty in there to keep everyone laughing (for example, Carmen Bernstein’s constant jibes about her husband). And if that’s not enough, there are lots of toe-tapping numbers and a genuinely intriguing whodunnit at the centre of things. The combination of musical theatre, murder mystery and mirth is right up my street.
It’s perhaps a tad too long; out of necessity for the plot, we hear three different attempts at In the Same Boat before it’s completed, plus there are some reprises which do extend it – and, in the tradition of whodunnits, it does lead you up the garden path on several occasions before the mystery is finally solved. Or is it..? To be honest, the audience response must also play a part, as hysterical laughter does tend to extend things a bit – particularly on opening night, as that resonates quite hilariously with events onstage.
Rebecca Lock is utterly fierce as hard-nosed producer Carmen Bernstein, excelling at the cutting remarks towards her husband Sidney and daughter Elaine (“It’s Bambi!”). Andy Coxon and Carley Stenson are wonderfully matched as estranged couple (and writing team) Aaron Fox and Georgia Hendricks, with great chemistry and vocals to die for. Jason Manford, as expected, has spot-on comic timing – and he’s entirely believable as the sharp-witted detective with a penchant for all that jazz.
It’s Samuel Holmes who steals the show, however. He is absolutely in his element as director Christopher Belling, nailing every single one-liner and expertly acknowledging the audience in his delivery. One of the most memorable turns of the year.
My verdict? A toe-tapping, giggle-inducing spectacular that stays just as true to the whodunnit – Samuel Holmes absolutely steals the show.