It’s opening night of Robbin’ Hood! at the Colonial Theatre in Boston. But the show’s as much of a disaster as the aging film star in the leading role, Jessica Cranshaw (Stephanie Parker). After the critics pan it, things can only get worse for flamboyant director Christopher (Bryan Kennedy), unscrupulous producer Carmen (Buster Skeggs), lyricist Georgia (Fiona O’Carroll), and songwriter Aaron (Leo Andrew) when Jessica is pronounced dead after collapsing during the curtain call. Enter Boston’s finest Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Jeremy Legat) to solve the murder whilst the entire cast and crew are under his quarantine as they’re all suspects. But as a musicals enthusiast himself, can he fix the show, woo the understudy (Bronwyn Andrews) and catch the killer?
It’s surprising that a show which garnered eight Tony Award nominations in 2007, including a ‘Best Actor in a Musical’ win for David Hyde Pierce, has taken so long for a professional production to have reached Europe since it closed in 2008. In Curtains’ absence the West End has the musical comedy genre affectionately mocked with shows such as the ill fated but fantastic Lend Me A Tenor, and Betty Blue Eyes – redefining the benchmark for ironic finesse. But Curtains has still been worth the wait despite merely landing on a humble fringe stage.
It was always going to be a challenge to bring a full blown Broadway production into the tiny space of the Landor Theatre. But Director Robert McWhir, choreographer Robbie O’Reilly, and designer Mark Thomas deserve a lot of praise for managing to compress the pizzazz without losing any of the spectacle. McWhir commands a staggering 16-strong cast in this cosy studio with energy and gusto, never letting the show feel cramped or ill conceived. O’Reilly’s movement is far from lacking in high kicks, jumps, and twirls, overcoming spacial limitations with resourceful ingenuity and throwing caution to the front row. Thomas’ set of convincingly dusty fly rails and half a proscenium arch is an ingenious and intuitive capitalisation of sparse resources without looking amateur or cobbled. Thanks to them, it’s as slick a fringe production as they come.
The cast are also an excellent troupe. It’s great to see Skegg’s potential achieved as wisecracking and cynical Carmen after she was clearly underused in the underwhelming Burlesque. Both O’Carroll’s and Andrew’s solo ballads, ‘Thinking of Him’ and ‘I Miss the Music’ respectively, were executed with supreme tenderness and were by far the two knock-out numbers of the show. Meanwhile, Legat commands his presence and effortlessly draws focus as the overly enthusiastic, winsome, yet distracted police detective, making him a joy to watch.
Faults with the show itself lie in the book and music, and even then they’re few. As well as a musical comedy it is also a murder mystery, but for most of the first act it seems to almost shelve the ulterior and sinister plot device completely in favour of singing and sniggers. It’s a particular shame as when Act II finally gets round to focusing on whodunnit it’s becomes as skillful an enigma as it is witty. Also, besides the two aforementioned numbers, there’s nothing outrightly memorable about the songs or the musical overall, especially when you consider the fact that the show’s creators, John Kander and Fred Ebb, have the likes of Chicago and Cabaret under their belt.
Minor foibles aside, Curtains is a wildly enjoyable and entertaining evening despite its squeeze into the Landor Theatre. As well as being uproariously funny, it will leave you guessing about the identity of the murderer right up until the final furlong. It’s an ideal remedy for anyone who misses The Drowsy Chaperone, but also what we can only hope will be a perspective replacement for ailing The Mousetrap. Watch your back Agatha, these guys aim to kill.
Curtains plays at the Landor Theatre, London, SW9 9PH, until 1 September 2012. Tickets are £20 (concessions available). To book call 020 7737 7276 or visit www.landortheatre.co.uk.
Featured Image: Buster Skeggs (left) and Jeremy Legat (right). Photograph: Francis Loney.