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Walnut Street Theatre’s “Curtains” is Almost a Hit


Curtains at the Walnut Street TheatreThe Walnut Street Theatre opens its 203rd season with Kander & Ebb’s Broadway hit musical Curtains. It’s 1959 and opening night for “Robin Hood of the Old West,” the show-within-the-show that keeps losing cast and crew members to untimely ends during an out-of-town tryout in Boston

Curtains is the tumultuous backstage story of a new musical of the old West including plenty of corny jokes, campy lines and acting. 

Frank Cioffi, a Boston police detective/theater wanna be is investigating the murders, undermining the director and falling in love all within the same assignment while holding the nervous thespian suspects hostage in the theatre. 

While the Walnut puts out a great deal of effort with a highly charged and talented cast, the comedy is never quite funny enough and the romance is never quite amorous enough. “Curtains” starts to feel like reruns of “Murder She Wrote” meets “Oklahoma!” or “Columbo” meets “Annie Get Your Gun.”

Curtains at the Walnut Street TheatreThe characters are predictable: the demanding diva, the overbearing producer, wonderfully played by Denise Whelan; the eccentric director, overplayed delightfully by Laurent Giroux; the suspiciously sweet understudy played nicely by Julie Reiber; and the charming, homey detective Cioffi played by David Hess, who seems comfortable with this role at best. 

Mr. Kander, the composer of “Cabaret” and “Chicago,” and catchy, vampy scores is the envy of musical theater, but his tunes in Curtains are often repetitious, non- rousing and pretty much 'unhumable'. His best numbers for “Curtains” include a lovely ballad, “I Miss the Music,” in which the show-within-the-show’s composer, Jeffrey Coon sings quite impressively of how hard it is to write without his longtime lyricist and ex-wife, played by Nancy Lemenager. The power numbers “Show People” and “It’s a Business” are well written and delivered by the principles and company. 

Richard Stafford’s direction in this mad capped musical is imaginative and his choreography in good form with the company as well as the standout dancing and acting of David Elder playing Bobby Pepper. 

Curtains seems to try a bit too hard to capture all the elements of a great show, yet it is an entertaining evening of musical comedy.

The show runs September 7 – October 24, 2010; for ticket information please visit http://www.walnutstreettheatre.org/.