Lured by Working With Legends, Hyde Pierce Worked New Muscles for Curtains

Tony Awards   Lured by Working With Legends, Hyde Pierce Worked New Muscles for Curtains David Hyde Pierce's appearance in the burlesque-frilled musical Spamalot didn't quite prepare him for his role as a sensitive homicide detective in the Tony Award-nominated murder-mystery-musical comedy Curtains.

David Hyde Pierce stars in Curtains.
David Hyde Pierce stars in Curtains. Photo by Joan Marcus

Nominated for the 2007 Tony Award as Best Leading Actor in a Musical, Hyde Pierce told Playbill.com that he worked new acting muscles to fill the gumshoes of the stage-struck Lt. Frank Cioffi.

What did he stretch? "Really, everything," Hyde Pierce said. "The obvious thing is the singing and the dancing, which are relatively new to me and much more than I've ever done in any capacity before. It's also a different kind of acting in a way, especially the acting in the songs because there's a way you have to open yourself up as a singer when you're in a musical that is exactly the opposite of my style of acting — I'm usually someone who tends to be more closed off and let people pick up by inference what's going on with me. To stand on a stage and sing how you're feeling is a very new and scary thing for me."

But what about his turn in the daffy 2005 Tony-winning Best Musical Spamalot? "In Spamalot, we didn't have sing-how-you-feel songs, it was a very different thing."

He credits 2007 Tony nominees Scott Ellis, who directed Curtains, and composer-lyricist John Kander with helping him navigate the material, which has a Tony-nominated book by Rupert Holmes and Peter Stone. Holmes also penned additional lyrics, and is therefore also a Tony nominee in the category of Best Score.

A centerpiece song for Hyde Pierce in Curtains is a number called "Coffee Shop Nights," where his character reveals to a young actress (played by Jill Paice) that there's something drab about his life when he's not witnessing a musical or acting in a community theatre show. "I've tried to experiment with how much I do sing in that song," he explained. "If it's too sung, it loses its value. I'm not talking about speaking vs. singing, I'm talking about the kind of singing you're doing. To be able to every night go out and experiment how you connect your emotions to the voice in this small jewelbox of a song [is a great thing]."

Hyde Pierce admits his persona as an actor is a good match for Lt. Cioffi. Both are career outsiders to mainstream musical theatre, and both are caught in its thrall.

"I have this incredible dance number, my and Jill Paice's fantasy, a Fred-and-Ginger dance number," he said. "Any one of our ensemble dancers could dance this better than me in a second. The brilliance of [2007 Tony nominee and past Tony winner] Rob Ashford's choreography is that he's got me doing it. Part of the pleasure for an audience is seeing this [outsider] guy — it's not like I look like an idiot out there, but people know I'm not a Broadway dancer. To see him get to fulfill that fantasy, especially in the way he so beautifully structured, that's the thrill of that number."

Hyde Pierce was attracted to the idea of working with the legendary Tony Award-winning team of lyricist Fred Ebb and composer Kander, who broke ground with Cabaret and Chicago and Kiss of the Spider Woman. Ebb was alive when Hyde Pierce was first attached to Curtains, but died during its development, in 2004.

"Coffee Shop Nights" was the first song Kander wrote without Ebb, the actor said. "Kander wrote music and lyrics," Hyde Pierce said. "The first time I sang it, David Loud, our music director, was playing the piano in the rehearsal room. He started to play the accompaniment and Kander said, 'Well, maybe something like this…,' and Kander sat down and played the piano while I sang the song. I am so thrilled to be nominated for a Tony Award but nothing — nothing — will compare to that."