The Tony Award-winning musical “Curtains” delivered laugh after laugh at the Centerstage Theater this winter. The show opened Feb. 17 and runs through March 5. The direction, stagecraft, casting and acting all worked cooperatively under the direction of Stephanie Newman on the night of Feb. 18 to deliver a memorable performance to the audience members.
The story of “Curtains” unfolds entirely within Boston’s Colonial Theatre in 1959 as the theatre company attempts a Western production “Robbin’ Hood.” Every member of the production gets detained by Lt. Frank Cioffi, played by Matthew Campbell, due to the onstage murder of their star actress Jessica Cranshaw, played by Chantelle Smith. A murder investigation will take place, love brews on the horizon for some, and the show must turn its ratings around in 24 hours to continue production of the brand-new musical.
Smith’s role as Cranshaw was both brief, but pivotal, to the rest of the play; the role had to nonverbally communicate her unpopularity among her company in order to make the play believable. She needed to convincingly and safely dance, scoff, and bump into her fellow thespians to set the stage for this ‘whodunit,’ and Smith made it abundantly clear that Ms. Cranshaw’s nose was turned up so high that she may have been liable to drown in a rainstorm.
Songwriter Georgia Hendricks, played by Cristina Bayardo, was appointed to the leading role of “Robbin’ Hood” not long after the murder. Bayardo delivered the Hendricks’ complex character from start to finish. She shared her deep thoughts with her separated husband and composer, Aaron Fox, played by John Davis. On the other hand, Hendricks clearly gave her affections to the much less serious choreographer and male lead of “Robbin’ Hood,” Bobby Pepper, played by Ben Ruggles.
Early in the play Bayardo, Davis and Ruggles showed that they were clearly immersed in their respective characters for their performance of “Thinking of Him” through their choreography and emotive delivery of lyrics. The melancholy for what was but could not be expressed by both Bayardo and Davis informed the audience that “Curtains” would deliver both comedic and romantic plots and themes.
Most members of the tumultuous production make pun after pun about Cranshaw’s murder. These quips usually dealt with the way the star murdered the careers of her associates, how she strangled the show itself, and generally destroyed any and every pillar of acting while she was alive. The ridicule of the late actress highlights how chaotic Lt. Cioffi’s job becomes apparent upon his entry to the Colonial Theatre, but despite all of the caustic remarks tossed at his murder victim, no one safe from verbal inferno.
While it would be hard to find a consensus on which singular character best exemplifies shamelessness, the play’s director, Christopher ‘Chris’ Belling, played by Travis Newman, liberally applies both intellect and cruelty in his speech. Newman gave a soulful performance of the melodramatic Belling through his mannerisms, as well as an exuberant delivery of the character’s emotionally and tonally complex lines.
For example, Chris wanted a tune from his songwriters that is “catchier than pink eye.”
In another instance, the play’s financial backer and general manager, Oscar Shapiro, played by Conner Arrant, said to Belling: “I’ll make sure to put my money where your mouth is.”
“Just make sure you launder it first,” Belling replies.
Arrant walked the fine line of embodying a dubious career businessman while oddly having earnest and forthright intentions about the play within the play.
Before long, Cioffi found that he had fallen quickly for the understudy to his murder victim, and murder suspect Niki Harris, played by Alyssa Longoria. Cioffi habitually asks Harris out on a date to be continually reminded by Ms. Harris: “But you won’t let me leave.” Despite the obvious windup to this joke multiple times in both acts, both Campbell and Longoria brought out laughter from the audience on each occasion.
Detailed stagecraft and choreography were obvious from the opening moments of “Curtains”— the vivid sets in the opening number “Wide Open Spaces” throws the audience immediately into the production of the play within a play.
During the musical number “A Tough Act to Follow,” which starts out as a duet between Cioffi and Harris, a curtain reveal instantly becomes a fantastic vision complete with an ensemble and a gorgeous backdrop made entirely of strung gold beads with the dance ensemble on multiple levels. The rise of the pair’s emotions was timed with the reveal of the backdrop, and the deflation of their fantasy was marked by a curtain close. The synchronization of emotions and aesthetics was one of the most impressive features of the production.
Campbell’s labor to portray protagonist Lt. Cioffi as a meticulous character with awkward mannerisms and hidden talents kept the production tightly bound onstage in both acts. Cioffi’s overtly anxious yet calculated speech, mannerisms and actions were clearly expressed by Campbell. Had Campbell chose to play the actor primarily as a ‘tough guy,’ the charm of the play would have been hampered.
Free admission was made available to UCC students from Feb. 17 to Feb. 19, thanks to ASUCC Student Weekend. The play can still be seen through Sunday, March 5. Go find out whodunit!