The musical partnership of American song-writing duo, John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics) is probably best known for creating long-running Broadway smashes like Cabaret and Chicago. Curtains was one of their final and less well-known collaborations, premiering in 2006, two years after Ebb’s death, with additional lyrics from both Kander and Rupert Holmes who wrote the book. It is a treat to see this rarely-staged musical on a large UK tour with such a high calibre cast.
Set in the 1950s, the show opens during the finale of a terrible wild-west musical, Robbin Hood of the Old West. Don’t worry, it is meant to be bad. And just when we think it can’t get any worse for the wooden leading lady, she falls to the ground – dead.
A comical outpouring of grief from the cast follows with the woeful tune, ‘A Woman is Dead’ but quick as a flash hard-bitten producer, Carmen Bernstein (Rebecca Lock) whips them back into shape with the old showbiz adage, ‘The Show Must Go On.’
But this isn’t Broadway, this is back-stage Boston, where everyone involved is working for minimum rates and closing the show would give them all a chance to escape their contracts for something better. Hammy British Director, Christopher Belling (the brilliant, Samuel Holmes) tries to control the chaos with his deliciously witty one-liners. But it is Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Jason Manford) who gets the cast to hold their places; cordoning off the theatre as a murder scene from which no-one can leave until the culprit is found.
Manford has grown from stand-up comedian into an all-round entertainer whose talent shines in whatever role he takes. Here he mixes a Columbo-style cop with a musical-loving romantic, adds a light-touch of comedy and bags of enthusiasm and warmth to create a memorable detective the audience loves.
There are other star turns from Strictly Come Dancing winner, Ore Oduba and Carley Stenson as song-writing duo Aaron Fox and Georgia Hendricks. Rebecca Lock brings the house down with a cynical and boldly sung view of commerce vs art in, ‘It’s a Business’.
Indeed, the whole musical is a tongue-in-cheek send up of theatre and those who work in it, with tangible affection running through it. Even the critics in the audience don’t escape the writers’ wit, getting a sharp skewering in the song, ‘What kind of man would take a job like that?’
The evening sweeps us along in the mystery of whodunnit, in a silly, laugh-out-loud funny, and harmless way that is pure escapism.★ ★ ★ ★
Curtains the Musical is at the Palace Theatre, Manchester from 8-12 October 2019.
Suitable for ages 12+
Read our interview with Jason Manford.