Behind the curtain cues and clues

Curtains (Beenleigh Theatre Group)

Crete Street Theatre

March 9 – 24

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As “Noises Off” has shown us, when it comes to theatre, what happens behind the stage curtain can be more interesting that what audiences see in front, especially when it involves murder. And thanks to a revolving stage at Beenleigh Theatre Group’s Crete Street Theatre, audiences are given ringside seats to all the machinations of the musical murder mystery “Curtains”, the last big musical created by John Kander​ and Fred Ebb of “Cabaret” and “Chicago” fame.

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The whodunit of cues and clues is not only a spoof of a backstage murder mystery, but doubles as a love letter to the Broadway stage. It is not set in New York, however, but rather 1959 Boston, where, at opening night of the Broadway-bound cowboy musical “Robbin’ Hood of The Old West”, the talentless leading lady, faded film star diva Jessica Cranshaw (Madi Jennings) is murdered during the curtain call. Suspects abound and when the show is critically panned, the producers need to decide whether to proceed with a new lead or shut down. Carmen (Fiona Buchanan) and Sidney Bernstein (Jarryd Pianca) decide to forge ahead with lyricist Georgia Hendricks (Genevieve) in the lead, which results in rekindle of the faded romance between songwriters Hendricks and Aaron Fox (William Boyd). Enter theatre-obsessed but lonely, married-to-his-job Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Tony Campbell) to investigate the by-then series of murders, solve the show’s artistic problems and be enchanted by charming ingénue Niki (Lauren-Lee Innis-Youren) who, as understudy, is eager to make her Broadway debut.

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Although the show is a lightweight romp, as a homage to the golden age of Broadway musicals, with many nods to showbiz clichés and stereotypes, “Curtains” is an ambitious choice for any company. The show requires a large cast and there is always a lot happening on stage. Generally, it works and good use is made of the limited stage area to enable a live music soundtrack. The score has the usual musical mix of comedy, ballad and soliloquy songs and from the ‘Overture’ it is evident that the band, under conductor Julie Whiting is excellent, even if its sound initially overplays the voices on stage. But nothing can detract from the disconcerting sound moments of missed cures and microphone level issues that sometimes presented on opening night.

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Quality performances add much to the show’s appeal. Jim Price nails the sarcastic comedy of the bitchy director Christopher Belling with perfectly-timed pithy one-lines. And Buchanan brings a confident humour to the role of sassy producer Carmen Bernstein, with risqué double entendres aplenty regarding her philandering husband Sidney. As the replacement leading lady, Tree is vivacious and vocally very good in the big numbers. As her former husband, Boyd is also excellent in numbers like ‘Thinking of Him’, after claiming that his now ex-wife only wants to rekindle a romance with choreographer Bobby (Dylan Hodge), the actor playing Rob Hood and Georgia’s ex-boyfriend.

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“Curtains” includes a number of musical highlights, including fun song and dance numbers with plenty of jokey allusions to hits like “Oklahoma!”, “Annie Get Your Gun” and alike in, for example, the up-tempo square dance number ‘Kansasland’. There is also a wonderfully nostalgic nod to Fred and Ginger greatness in both choreography and charm in the romantic ‘A Tough Act to Follow,’ sung and danced by Campbell and Innis-Youren, in which Lieutenant Cioffi lives his dream of being onstage amongst atmosphere dream-sequence-like design.

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Opening night (which perhaps would have been better as a preview) hiccups aside, “Curtains” is clearly an entertaining night out. Although the whodunnit plot is improbably complicated, its theatrical send-up is so buoyant that it is difficult not be joyously bounced along its duration, especially as a fan of musical theatre from that golden age.

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