BWW Review: CURTAINS at Oyster Mill Playhouse
Curtains by John Kander, Fred Ebb, Rupert Holmes, and Peter Stone is a murder mystery wrapped up in the trappings of a romantic comedy. When it premiered at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, Curtains received mixed reviews. However, in 2007 the show opened on Broadway and received eight Tony Award nominations. Curtains presents the audience with a show within a show. This musical whodunit explores the lives, loves, and lies of the cast and crew of a musical called "Robbin' Hood" who find themselves suspects in a murder investigation when their leading lady is killed backstage. The curtains opened on Curtains at Oyster Mill Playhouse on April 20, 2018.
For those who are not familiar with the plot, when the show begins, one might be concerned that the entire show will be like the opening number. The opening certainly does not lack in enthusiasm, but it does lack in correct dance steps and notes, mainly on the part of the character Jessica Cranshaw. Thankfully, as the storyline unfolds, the audience learns that Jessica Cranshaw's lack of talent is part of the story.
The voices in Oyster Mill's production of Curtains are fantastic. While the cast handles singing to tracks quite well, one of the unfortunate parts of performing without a live pit is that occasionally there is a slight mismatch in the range of the song with an actor's voice. For example, "Thinking of Him" starts a little low for Kaytee Moyer, who plays Georgia Hendricks (Moyer's soprano range is lovely and clear throughout the rest of the show). However, the overall vocal prowess of the cast quickly makes the audience forget those times when they aren't as strong.
Throughout the show the harmonies are spot on and the voices are matched up quite well. "What Kind of Man?" was one of my favorite songs (ironically, since it is a song about how terrible critics are) for the beautiful harmonies. Similarly, "The Woman's Dead", performed by the entire company, puts the cast's vocal skills on display. It is important to note that the sound crew deserves a huge round of applause for skillfully adjusting the volume of the accompaniment when needed so that the audience could hear every voice equally well.
Jasmine Graham and Brandon Rexrode are adorable as Niki Harris and Lt. Frank Cioffi. Rexrode's Lt. Cioffi is affable and unassuming as he puts the pieces together to solve the murder. Cioffi's enthusiasm for theatre, which Rexrode brings to life beautifully, helps remind the cast of "Robbin' Hood" why they do what they do and helps bring the audience into the story on a deeper level, as we think about the things in our lives that bring us that same kind of joy. When Graham and Rexrode perform "Coffee Shop Nights" and "A Tough Act to Follow" the audience can't help but remember how it felt to fall in love for the first time.
One of the most complex relationships in the show is that between Bambi and Carmen. Carmen is one of the producers of "Robbin' Hood" and Bambi is in the ensemble. The audience eventually learns that Bambi is actually Carmen's daughter Elaine. Kelsey Blue is delightful as Bambi, playing the petulant child quite convincingly. Rose Eileen Turner's Carmen is brilliant-a tough businesswoman who is unwilling to give up on the show. One of the most touching moments in Curtains is when the audience is treated to a glimpse of Carmen's softer side, and we finally realize just how fiercely loyal and loving she is. Turner handles this display of vulnerability with lovely subtlety.
The love triangle between Bobby Pepper (portrayed by Marquas Fountain), Georgia Hendricks (Kaytee Moyer), and Aaron Fox (played by Michael Beckstein) is heartbreaking as each of them confesses their feelings throughout the show. Beckstein's "I Miss the Music" is one of the most poignant songs of the entire show, and Beckstein's performance tugs at the heartstrings.
It is impossible to write about Curtains without mentioning the comedy. The comedic timing of the cast in this production was fantastic, and it is even more hilarious for anyone who has been part of a show. Of particular note are Rebecca Lease as stage manager Jenny Harmon and Stephen F.J. Martin as director Christopher Belling. Their director/stage manager relationship is perfectly and hilariously executed by these actors. Martin is adept at delivering lines such as "come, help me watch you move this piano" in stereotypical droll English fashion. Lease, who actually is the stage manager for this production of Curtains, plays a Jenny who is straightforward, down to earth, and the perfect balance to the director.
The only part of the show that I did not find humorous was the dance that Bambi performs in "Kansasland". The song and dance are part of "Robbin' Hood", the show that the characters are performing. "Robbin' Hood" is a western with a very disparaging portrayal of Native Americans in the vein of the old time "cowboy and Indian" westerns where Native American women were eroticized by the settlers. While it is certainly not the fault of the director or cast of Curtains, that particular part of the show seems in poor taste for modern times, and I can't help but wonder why the authors of Curtains did not make a different choice for that scene and dance.
Overall, the cast and crew of Oyster Mill's Curtains put together a very entertaining show. Audiences can expect an evening of delightful vocal performances and many laughs as they experience solving a murder, falling in love, and following a dream.
Don't miss your chance to see Curtains at Oyster Mill, on stage through May 6th. Visit www.oystermill.com to order your tickets today.