The musical Curtains became more than the touring production it was designed as.
It unexpectedly hit the west end in December 2019 after the lacklustre “Man in the White Suit” received lacklustre sales and closed early. Curtains was brought in to fill the theatre void for five weeks.
Then during the tour it received criticism for not closing early enough. Specific criticism was levelled at Jason Manford for still performing despite knowing that his understudy would go on if he has refused to perform. I think we all appreciate now how hard the choices were that people had to make early on in the crisis while awaiting government guidance.
Then a filmed version was made available as a fundraiser for Funds For Freelancers. It had a set start time and even had a built-in interval to help make the screening maximum theatre. Unfortunately the stream had an issue when it start meaning several people missed it, causing another mini-controversy. They extended it for 24 hours and then gave everyone another chance to buy it for 24 hours a few days later. The problems by then seemed to have been resolved.
But what is Curtains? It’s a musical whodunit about putting on a musical, when the stars are getting murdered. So feeling I was missing out on my normal theatre mix, this show really helped fill that gap with both a show and a show in a show.
The plot is relatively simple. While putting on a musical the “star” of the show dies when leaving the stage on opening night. After getting terrible reviews and a quick recast they decide to re-open a few days later. While this is happening, it’s determined that the star had been poisoned and a musical loving detective comes in to solve the murder, but spends more time helping the production of the show than investigating the murder(s).
The best way to describe this is cheerful. Everything about it is fun. Having been written by Kander and Ebb who wrote Chicago and Cabaret it’s surprising that this has taken such a turn although hints of those shows come through in the music. While most of the music is not especially memorable it is enjoyable in the moment and there are a couple of standout songs. The Woman’s Dead is a well written comedy song as the cast lament their dead colleague, and It’s a Business, as the producer explains showbusiness to her supposedly talentless daughter. Having essentially two shows some of the music is there for the story and then there is music from the second show just for fun. This really allows them to be creative and play with it. There is some beautifully innovative choreography, some of which is a lot raunchier than we anticipated. The cast clearly relish the roles they have and play the roles with the perfect mix of humour and sincerity. Even the worst of the characters, or maybe especially the worst, you’ll end up falling in love with.
The problem it has is the distribution rights won’t allow them to make it available for long periods which would help raise more for the charities. But if this production comes back once theatres re-open it would certainly be one to try and catch live. It captures the exuberance and joy of theatre which is exactly what we need!