Mark Ludmon reviews the UK touring production of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s musical comedy whodunnit Curtains at the Wyndham’s Theatre, London, starring Jason Manford
Wyndham’s Theatre, London
See Curtains on Tour! Click to see the CURTAINS UK TOUR SCHEDULE
It’s taken over 13 years for Curtains, Kander and Ebb’s last musical together, to reach London’s West End after its American debut. While it may not be as perfect as the duo’s other shows such as Cabaret and Chicago, it is a delightful combination of comedy, music and murder mystery. With a superb cast led by comedian Jason Manford, the new production at the Wyndham’s – part of a UK tour that continues until April – is filled with charm and wit that makes its arrival well worth waiting for.
The show is built around a crime procedural plot that could have been lifted from any episode of Midsomer Murders. During an out-of-town try-out for a Broadway show, the talentless leading lady is somehow murdered during the curtain call, and suspicion falls on the cast and creatives. This brings in Manford’s detective Frank Cioffi who is torn between his mission to identify the killer and his passion for the stage. While it works effectively as a camp, blackly comic whodunnit, the heart of the show is a celebration of theatre, from the back-stage drama and larger-than-life characters to songs illuminating the life of “show people”.
It is also a celebration of classic musicals, staging song and dance numbers from Robbin’ Hood – a Rodgers & Hammerstein pastiche that reflects the 1959 setting of the story. With spectacular choreography by Alistair David, these scenes may not move the plot on much but, as with many a 20th-century musical, they are a joy to watch. They draw out the running time but this is balanced by the comedy in Rupert Holmes’s book and Fred Ebb’s lyrics. The blistering one-liners are shot out sharpest by Samuel Holmes as the deliciously narcissistic director, Christopher Belling, and Rebecca Lock in a stunning performance as the hard-nosed producer, Carmen Bernstein. There isn’t room to credit everyone in this flawless cast but Andy Coxon and Carley Stenson stand out as the fictional show’s composer and lyricist while Emma Caffrey and Leah Barbara West are excellent as ambitious actors Bambi Bernét and Niki Harris.
With arrangements by musical supervisor Sarah Travis, John Kander’s melodies sparkle, from the big comic numbers such as “Show People” and “It’s a Business” to the more touching tunes of “Coffee Shop Nights” and “I Miss the Music” – a song about a composer losing his lyricist that has added poignancy as Ebb died before Curtains was finished. David Woodhead’s set and Gabriella Slade’s costumes neatly conjure up the back-stage world of a provincial theatre – an accidental companion to Michael Frayn’s classic back-stage farce Noises Off a few doors down at the Garrick. Some of the show’s humour relies on knowledge of theatre but, under director Paul Foster, there is plenty to entertain in this rich mix of comedy, music, dance and whodunnit.
Curtains will be touring the UK until April 2020. Click the link for a full list of venues.