I had never heard of Curtains before, and the by-line A Musical Whodunnit did not fill me with hope. But as the band played the overture to Act One (Itself an unusual feature), I got a funny feeling that this might be ‘curtains’ for my preconceptions. And as I listened to the second number in the show, What kind of man? – a put-down in four-part harmony, with a dazzling array of opprobrious epithets, of people like me (viz theatre critics) – I was convinced that this show was something else. Really special.
The structure of the show is not original. It is a show about putting on a show (here, a corny Western), and it is also a murder mystery, with various members of the cast getting bumped off during the production. These two themes, whether singly or in combination, are very familiar to theatregoers. But the conventions of a genre have never bound genius and mediocrity in equal chains. Kander & Ebb are up there with the likes of Rogers & Hammerstein. They gave us Cabaret and Chicago. This creation of theirs deserves to be just as well-known.
However, it is the execution, the transfer of ideas from page to stage, that really counts, and here it is quite remarkable. The choreography is both intricate and spectacular, with the Ensemble managing frequent costume changes without a hitch. As for the music, the tunes are good, the lyrics are witty, and the singing … Well, it ranges from the whole company joining in, to numbers sung by one, two, three or four of the cast. But whichever it is, it maintains the same high quality. I particularly like the harmonies, as in the number where three of the women in the cast sound just as good as the Andrews Sisters. Indeed, the play is set in that era, and the sharp dialogue would have suited Bogart.
Perhaps what stands out most is the sheer athleticism, the acrobatic intensity, of the dancing, which climaxed in a dance between a cowboy and an Indian maid (part of the ‘show within a show’). It left me breathless. Of all the musicals which the New Wimbledon Theatre has been successfully staging for years now, this must rank as one of the best.
- Book by Rupert Holmes
- Music by John Kander
- Lyrics by Fred Ebb
- Directed by Paul Foster
- Choreographed by Alistair David
- Cast includes: Jason Manford, Carley Stenson and Ore Oduba
- The New Wimbledon Theatre, London
- Until 18th January 2020
- Time : 7.30 p.m. Running time : 2 and a half hours, plus 20-minute interval