Will this musical whodunnit be curtains for Jason Manford?
Curtains is a musical with music by Kander and Ebb, the team behind Chicago and Cabaret, which opened on Broadway in 2007. This new production stars comedian Jason Manford and was shown at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham from the 5th to the 9th of November, as part of its national tour before it transfers to the West End.
Set in 1950’s Boston, Curtains is a musical whodunnit like nothing I’ve ever seen on stage before. When the lead of a new musical is found dead after opening night, the bumbling Lt. Frank Cioffi (Manford) is brought in to solve the crime, forcing the whole cast and crew to remain in the theatre until the mystery is solved. With a divorced husband and wife writing team, a petulant stage daughter determined to please her mother, and a cruel and womanising producer there are plenty of motives flying around. On top of this, the musical has opened to horrendous reviews, and the cast and crew have only 24 hours to resurrect it, before their final review determines the fate of their broadway dreams. Will Cioffi be able to catch the killer and save the show?
The plot itself is fairly gripping, if slightly slow at parts. The sub plot of the divorced husband and wife team, despite giving the show one of its most heartfelt numbers, “I Miss the Music” felt slightly out of place and thus, the resolution of this story was exceedingly rushed in order to make way for the big reveal of “whodunnit”.
This being said, the show was a fun concept, with Manford’s Cioffi holding the show together perfectly. You really did root for him, and want him to solve the murders. In addition, the parallels between the jovial nature of attempting to fix the musical juxtaposed with the darker moments of the murder plot lead to some fabulous moments of dark comedy.
Manford’s Cioffi was truly sweet and likeable. There has been much debate about stunt casting in the west end recently, but Manford was the perfect fit for the role. You rooted for him the whole way through, and he played off the technical difficulties in the show with humour and professionalism. Further commendations also have to be made to Samuel Holmes, Rebecca Lock and Emma Caffrey. Lock’s strong characterisation as the harsh producer Carmen Bernstein was matched with strong vocals, and Caffrey’s dance solo was a joy to watch.
The staging was also innovative. The stage set within a stage allowed it to feel as if they were actually in a theatre, complete with fake wings which were visible, to add to the authenticity. The curtain was used effectively for the most part, creating a real sense of theatre, however, it was perhaps overused, with a few too many scene changes relying on the curtain. There were a few technical difficulties which, although didn’t impair the show, did make it seem less professional. However, this is early on in their tour and the first day in a new theatre, so it is understandable that there will be a few hiccoughs!
Fans of Kander and Ebb will not be disappointed by the music. There were quite a few catchy numbers, with the show within a show concept allowing a nice mix between classic Broadway style chorus numbers, and sweet numbers such as Coffee Shop Nights and I miss the music. The strong references to older musicals such as Oklahoma and Carousel are clear in the larger numbers, and as a musical theatre enthusiast this was a lovely change from Kander and Ebb distinctive style, and evoked a large amount of nostalgia!
However, what I do think was missing was a strong identifying number. Cabaret has Cabaret, Chicago has All That Jazz. Curtains has a lot to offer, but you are left longing for that number to go home humming.
Overall, the show was enjoyable, if a little slow, but I left feeling suitably entertained, and the reveal of the killer was a genuine shock! Don’t go to this show expecting a showstopper, but it’s definitely worth a watch, if only for Manford’s charming and buffoonish performance.