There are a handful of precedents for mystery-steeped musicals, but three that come to mind — Baker Street, Redhead and Something's Afoot — didn't have the Tony Award-winning writers John Kander, Fred Ebb, Peter Stone and Rupert Holmes on their title pages.
(Let it be noted that the Victorian London-set, Jack-the-Ripper-themed Redhead, with a score by Dorothy Fields and Albert Hague, won the 1959 Tony Award for Best Musical.)
For Curtains, which was tested in a Los Angeles tryout in summer 2006 and began New York previews Feb. 27, Holmes penned the book (drawing on an original book and concept by the late Peter Stone), Kander wrote music and Ebb penned the lyrics. Ebb died before the show came to production, and Kander and Holmes penned additional lyrics for the project.
A post-Ebb song, "I Miss the Music," has a plaintive lyric by Kander in which an estranged composer-husband laments the loss of his lyricist wife. Kander recently admitted that although he did not intend it, the stirring ballad is an ode to his longtime collaborator. The 42-year K&E theatre partnership yielded songs for Cabaret, Zorba, Chicago, Kiss of the Spider Woman and many more.
The show is hardly all sadness and rue, however: Kander said the show is — for lack of an original phrase — a big love letter to the theatre (as evidenced by the upbeat "Show People" number in Act One, and the salty Ebb-driven "It's a Business" turn by Debra Monk in Act Two). Curtains is that rare commercial musical theatre creature: an original show not based on existing source material. It sprang from the mind of Tony-winning librettist Stone (1776, The Will Rogers Follies), who developed it over many years with Kander and Ebb before director Scott Ellis helped shape it in readings that led to its current commercial run.
Stone and Ebb did not live to see their darkly funny musical come to life, but the project did not die with them. Rupert Holmes (the Tony-winning songwriter and librettist of The Mystery of Edwin Drood) is now credited with the book, which is set in and around the Colonial Theatre in Boston during the tryout of a new Broadway-bound show.
Kander and Ellis told Playbill.com that the feverishly creative Holmes re-imagined the entire book, underlined the romance(s) in it, created the show within the show (called Robbin' Hood, set in Indian Territory of Kansas) and placed the whole shebang in 1959, when musical theatre was in a Golden Age — think West Side Story, The Music Man, Gypsy, My Fair Lady and (perhaps not coincidentally) Redhead.
The list of musical numbers in the Playbill does not specify who contributed lyrics to which songs. The goal there, Kander said, was to view the score as being from one voice — of a piece.
Four-time Tony Award nominee Scott Ellis (1776, The Little Dog Laughed, Twelve Angry Men, Kander and Ebb's And the World Goes 'Round, Steel Pier) directs a cast that includes David Hyde Pierce as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi, Tony Award winner Debra Monk (Redwood Curtain, Steel Pier) as producer Carmen Bernstein, Tony winner Karen Ziemba (Contact) as lyricist Georgia Hendricks, Jason Danieley (The Full Monty, Broadway's most recent Candide) as composer Aaron Fox, Jill Paice (The Woman in White) as ingénue Niki Harris and Edward Hibbert (The Drowsy Chaperone) as director Christopher Belling, with John Bolton as theatre critic Daryl Grady, Michael X. Martin as stage manager Johnny Harmon, Michael McCormick as investor Oscar Shapiro, Noah Racey (Never Gonna Dance) as choreographer Bobby Pepper, Ernie Sabella (Sweet Charity, Man of La Mancha) as producer Sidney Bernstein and Megan Sikora as understudy Bambi Bernét.
According to the producers, "Curtains unfolds backstage at Boston's Colonial Theatre in 1959, where a new musical could be a Broadway smash, were it not for the presence of its talent-free leading lady. When the hapless star dies on opening night during her curtain call, Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (David Hyde Pierce) arrives on the scene to conduct an investigation. But the lure of the theatre proves irresistible and after an unexpected romance blooms for the stage-struck detective, he finds himself just as drawn toward making the show a hit, as he is in solving the murder."
The 31-member cast also features Ashley Amber (Swing), Nili Bassman (Arlene Barucca), Kevin Bernard (Roy Stetson/Detective O'Farrell), Ward Billeisen (Brick Hawvermale), Paula Leggett Chase, (Marjorie Cook), Jennifer Dunne (Jan Setler), David Eggers (Swing), J. Austin Eyer (Swing), Matt Farnsworth (Harv Fremont), Patty Goble (Jessica Cranshaw/Connie Subbotin), Mary Ann Lamb (Mona Page), David Loud (Sasha Iljinsky), Brittany Marcin (Peg Prentice), Jim Newman (Randy Dexter), Joe Aaron Reid (Ronnie Driscoll), Darcie Roberts (Roberta Wooster), Christopher Spaulding (Russ Cochran), Allison Spratt (Swing) and Jerome Vivona (Swing).
The Broadway producers are Roger Berlind, Roger Horchow, Daryl Roth, Jane Bergère, Ted Hartley and Center Theatre Group. Like The Drowsy Chaperone in 2005-06, Curtains had its world premiere at Center Theatre Group's Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles (in August 2006).
The creative team includes set designer Anna Louizos, Tony-winning costume designer William Ivey Long (The Producers), Tony-winning lighting designer Peter Kaczorowski (The Producers) and sound designer Brian Ronan. Orchestrations are by Tony winner William David Brohn (Ragtime). Dance arrangements are by David Chase. Music direction and vocal arrangements are by David Loud. Wig and hair design is by Paul Huntley. Fight direction is by Rick Sordelet. Aerial effects design is by Paul Rubin. Make-up design is by Angelina Avallone. Associate choreographer is Joann M. Hunter. Production supervisor is Beverley Randolph. Technical supervisor is Peter Fulbright. Casting is by Jim Carnahan.
Performance schedule for Curtains is Tuesday-Saturday at 8 PM, with matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, and Sunday at 3 PM. Starting March 27, Tuesday evening performances will be at 7 PM.
Tickets are on sale at Telecharge at (212) 239-6200, online at www.telecharge.com or in person at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre box office.
For more information, visit www.CurtainsTheMusical.com.
The troupers will record the show's cast album March 26. The list of musical numbers in the opening night Playbill includes:
"Wide Open Spaces"
"What Kind of Man?"
"Thinking of Him"
"The Woman's Dead"
"Coffee Shop Nights"
"In the Same Boat 1"
"I Miss the Music"
"He Did It"
"In the Same Boat 2"
"It's a Business"
"Thinking of Him" (reprise)
"A Tough Act to Follow"
"In the Same Boat 3"
"A Tough Act to Follow" (reprise)