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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Curtains
Wyndham's Theatre   Winter 2019-2020

Curtains is a love letter to the Broadway musical in the form of a Broadway musical, written by Broadway musical masters. It is tuneful, witty, energetic, colourful and, most importantly, totally devoid of any deep meaning or social significance beyond entertainment.

It ought to run forever, but is actually in London for just a month, and I urge you to run out and see it.

The plot is a murder mystery set backstage in the Boston try-out of a Broadway-bound musical. The very unpopular and untalented star is killed, and the detective assigned to the case is a closet theatre buff.

His investigation keeps getting sidetracked by his delight at being among his idols and his suggestions for rewriting and restaging problems numbers in the show they're putting on.

And so Curtains has several levels of plot and humour – the musical-within-the-musical, the criminal investigation, the theatrical in-jokes and deliciously bitchy backstage backbiting, and even a couple of romances (including one for the stage-struck cop) – all delivered with the sharp edge of the creators of Chicago and Cabaret.

Lyricist Fred Ebb died during the creation of this show, and composer John Kander and book writer Rupert Holmes finished some of the songs for him. The seams do not show, and the whole has the recognisable Kander and Ebb flavour.

Reminded he's a suspect, one character quips 'It's an honour just to be nominated.' there's a song wondering what kind of mother allows her son to grow up to be a theatre critic, while a song about how little the victim is mourned notes 'The skies are blue, Her lips are too.'

There is yet another level to many of the songs that will provide extra delight to those who, like the onstage detective, are musical theatre buffs. Kander and Ebb demonstrate their encyclopedic knowledge of their art form by including songs that, without in any way imitating others, allude to their predecessors.

The finale of the cowboy-themed inner musical is a rousing salute to K-A-N-S-A-S, and that mock mourning song is in the spirit of Hammerstein's Poor Jud Is Dead. Curtains' big showstopper, Show People, is a salute to Irving Berlin, and you might catch the passing hint at Sondheim and even Kander and Ebb themselves.

That awareness of musical theatre history extends beyond the songs. Alistair David's witty and wholly original choreography alludes in passing to De Mille, Balanchine, Robbins, Kidd and Fosse,

You don't have to get the references to enjoy the musical numbers, but they add an extra kick for those who do.

Jason Manford, better known as a stand-up comic and TV host, carries the detective role with style and charm. He sings and dances more than adequately, finds all the laughs, and is both believable and endearing as investigator, enthralled fan and even romantic lead.

The only other stand-out in the uniformly fine cast is Rebecca Lock, making the most of some of the best songs and acerbic one-liners as the brassy Ethel-Merman-and-Bette-Midler-channeling producer.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Curtains - Wyndham's Theatre 2019