“I loved it! I laughed, I cried! It’s better than ‘Cats.’ I’m gonna see it TWO more times.”
Pullquotes. What every theatrical producer is scanning for in that all important opening-night review. Those few magical words; quick little kudos that proclaim proudly in big type at the top of the ads; to sell the show is so important, especially crucial when the show isn’t better than a spaceship full of feral kitties.
In the musical “Curtains,” one of the final musical collaborations between John Kander and the late Fred Ebb, the ritual is celebrated in a hilarious song, “What Kind of Man,” which smartly satirizes that double-edged sword when you loathe the critic for a bad review and love the critic when it’s a good review. Bad or good, you still need a quote.
What would be a good pullquote for Schenectady Light Opera Company’s current production of “Curtains” the musical? How about “It’s a fun, snappy evening of energetic silly satire?” And yes, it may be better than “Cats.”
An old-fashioned-style musical that could well have been written in 1959, the year in which it’s set, “Curtains” is a combination backstage comedy and whodunit murder mystery. With a book by Rupert Holmes (Drood), finishing up the work started on the project by the late Peter Stone (1776), the show is set in Boston’s Colonial Theater, where an unfortunate musical called “Robbin’ Hood” is starting its pre-Broadway tryout.
On the show’s opening night, the vain and untethered leading lady (a hysterically bad — on purpose — Elisa Verb) collapses and dies during her curtain call. To everyone’s surprise she’s been poisoned, and yes everyone is a suspect.
Could it be the unvarnished and profanely pragmatic producer (Melissa Putterman Hoffmann); the show’s “just friends, lovers no more” writers (Heather-Liz Cops and Alex Perone); the pompous director (Matthew W. Coviello) or the scheming showgirl (Emily Fuller) desperate to get her big break?
And those are just a few of the colorful cast of possible suspects. Arriving right on cue is trench-coat wearing detective Lt. Frank Cioffi (Steve Maggio) ready to investigate.
But the show must go on, so the frantic rehearsals continue before the nasty Boston Globe theater critic Daryl Grady (John Meglino) comes back to re-review the show with its new leading lady. Eager to close the case — but not the show — Lt. Cioffi becomes infatuated with one of the cast, the delightfully innocent and slightly kooky Nikki (Kelly M. Sienkiewicz) and helps get the show in shape for its Broadway debut. Before the curtain falls, Cioffi solves the crime, finds romance and saves the show. Cue applause.
“Curtains” is a frothy throwaway evening of musical entertainment stuffed to the brim with fun, stereotypical characters, backstage drama and broad one-liners. SLOC’s production mines all these to the max with bravado.
But a stage full of eager performers, flashy costumes and toothy grins cannot disguise the flimsiness of the material. Despite being very well presented, this is far from Kander and Ebb’s best work with the score offering few if any memorable musical moments. Perone delivers a stunningly beautiful vocal performance of the ironically titled “I Miss the Music.” The character is missing his former wife, but he could just as easily be singing about the show. “Curtains” is missing a hummable tune. Maybe next time, we’ll be lucky.
Much credit for the evening’s success goes to director Adam M. Coons, who manages to get just the right amount of wink and nudge from his cast of zanies and to Laura Marra for keeping the musical numbers brisk and spirited.
As Carmen, the show’s sardonic producer, Hoffman’s spot-on timing and delivery nearly steals every scene she’s in. Maggio is very engaging as the affable stage struck “Columbo” and Sienkiewiz is delightfully daffy as his bride to be. Copps and Perone are just great as the “will-they-or-won’t-they-get-back-together” writing team. Fuller is a hoot as the showgirl dying for the spotlight and Coviello is sublime as the overbearing director with a flair for the dramatic. Meglino, Peter Caracappa, Gary Hoffmann, Gabriel Hage and David E. Rook offer skilled comic support in some of the show’s smaller, but memorable roles.
The small orchestra under the direction of James W. Alexander is superb as are Michael McDermott’s fluid and functional settings. “Curtains” is a very enjoyable night out. It’s so much better than “Cats.”
WHERE: Schenectady Light Opera Company, 427 Franklin St., Schenectady
WHEN: Through March 18
HOW MUCH: $22-$28
MORE INFO: 877-350-7378, www.sloctheater.org