KANDER & Ebb wrote Cabaret, Chicago and Frank Sinatra’s signature song, New York, New York.
In truth, Curtains is not on a par with those peaks, being a musical, satirical comedy and whodunit rolled into a play within a play that excels at none of them.
A recipe with so many rich ingredients might have even Paul Hollywood worried, and what happens here is that nothing quite satisfies, although that is no fault of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s exuberant cast, director Alex Schofield, musical director Scott Phillips and orchestra alike.
The comedy sometimes has to strive too hard in its clunky send-ups of theatre group tropes and murder mysteries alike. Under Scott Phillips’s ceaselessly exuberant musical direction, his wind and brass players are full of oomph, as the songs are given maximum welly, particularly by Jennie Wogan-Wells’s Georgia Hendricks, Jennifer Jones’s Niki Harris and Rosy Rowley’s redoubtable Carmen Bernstein, but they fall well short of K&E’s Seventies’ best.
The whodunit interweaves with the hapless play within a play, a boisterous but seemingly plotless Western by the name of Robbin’ Hood, but it never has the grip, rising tension or intrigue of a Christie murder mystery. The more the plot thickens, somehow the more it doesn’t, because the musical must go on, in theatre tradition…but just too much is going on.
This 2007 American musical, with a book by Escape (The Pina Colada Song) hitmaker Rupert Holmes, is set in 1959, backstage and on stage at the Colonial Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts, where the exasperating, line-forgetting leading lady of a new musical mysteriously suddenly dies (much like her performance, not so mysteriously).
Everyone, cast and crew alike, is a suspect for forensic interrogation by Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Steve Jobson), the unconventional local detective with a passion for musical theatre. So much so, he keeps making suggestions to improve the musical (within the musical, not the K&E musical itself, which might have been a better idea).
You will enjoy the running in-joke of the song In The Same Boat forever being re-written in search of a better tune before Cioffi has the brilliant idea of running all five versions together in the best ensemble number of the show.
Unlike Holmes’s humour, Jobson has a lightness of touch to his performance, at ease with song and script alike, his Cioffi being plucky and persistent, and suddenly romantically involved too.
In a show where individual performances surpass the material, Wogan-Wells has fun as the indefatigable Georgia, taking over from the murdered lead, while Ben Huntley revels in being the Englishman abroad and aghast, Christopher Belling, the director with the waspish tongue and ocean-wide ego.
Curtains is too long, too convoluted, never as funny as a Mischief send-up, but JRTC’s production values are good, from costumes to lighting and Ollie Nash’s sound design. Choreographer Sarah Colestead, principals, featured dancers and ensemble, are kept busy by the flow of song after song and in turn keep the stage busy with commotion in motion.
As usual, JRTC will be raising funds for the JoRo, adding to the £23,000 donated from past productions. That all helps to keep the curtain up, even if Curtains doesn’t raise the roof, despite the committed performances.
Curtains for Curtains, a whydoit dud, but roll on JRTC’s upcoming shows, Helen Spencer’s second instalament of Musicals In The Multiverse and Beauty And The Beast.
Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.