Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hillbarn Theatre: Curtains!

Ensemble. Photo courtesy Mark Kitaoka.

One of Kander and Ebb’s last musicals, Curtains! is a charming metatheatrical murder-mystery that originally starred Frasier’s David Hyde Pierce in its original Broadway run. Hillbarn Theatre’s version is a gutsy, well-choreographed piece that makes use of the house’s intimate venue.

In terms of character, Curtains! is a farce, using a stock collection of larger-than-life goofballs to tell their story. At the center is Lt. Frank Cioffi (played by understudy David Meacham in the production I attended), a competent but dejected Boston police detective, who attempts to solve the case of a murder among a group of musical theatre players. Meacham’s Lt. Cioffi is similar to the original, played with an awkward, lively energy that makes him a protagonist everyone can root for.

A number of other goofy characters round out the Curtains! cast. Christopher M. Nelson plays composer Aaron Fox: His respectable singing voice becomes evident in his rendition of “I Miss The Music”, the best song in the show. The snooty British director Christopher Belling (Raymond Mendonca) is played a little softer than in other productions; while he still blusters and steals credit, in Hillbarn’s production he also truly cares about the welfare of the show.

The most interesting character decision, however, belongs to Boston Globe critic Daryl Grady (Russell Ward). In terms of casting, Grady has a lot of versatility, and I’ve seen versions where he’s played as a nebbish geek with thick glasses. However, Ward’s portrayal is neat, handsome, and charismatic; with a British accent, he could be right at home in an Oscar Wilde play.

Not to be ignored is the impeccable choreography by Jayne Zaban. The show within a show, Oklahoma parody Kansasland, has big, active dance numbers, but just as significant are the more intimate songs. “A Tough Act To Follow”, which stages an elaborate fantasy scene using Hillbarn’s small space, is an especially impressive feat.

Curtains! is not a challenging piece, but if you’re looking for a fun adventure with lovable (or loveably hateable) characters wrapped around a very solid mystery, it’s hard to find a better play.

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