Nederlander Presentations is hosting a private reading May 9 of the long-aborning murder mystery musical comedy, Curtains, by composer John Kander, lyricist Fred Ebb and librettist Peter Stone.
Scott Ellis directs the showbiz-themed musical, with David Loud as musical director and a cast that includes Debra Monk, Edward Hibbert, Michele Lee, Chip Zien, John Dossett, Michael McCormick, Paul Michael Valley, James Naughton and more. Rehearsals began April 29 toward the May 9 reading.
The show had a reading in January 2001 and the collaborators have been working on the script since that time. A workshop following the May reading is the next likely step, Stone previously told Playbill On-Line.
Progress on the work has often been slow, Stone told Playbill On-Line in late 2001, "because Kander and Ebb and I are never free at the same moment. So we've refined it many times, but now we really want to go forward with it."
Stone told PBOL in January 2001 that Kander and Ebb have been working on Curtains "sporadically for 12-to-13 years. We've each done at least three other shows in that period, so either they've been busy or I have, so it was tough to get together. But we had a private reading three or four weeks ago [in early 2001], just for us, and it was very encouraging. Scott Ellis directed, and we want him to be our director." Ruthie Henshall (Kander and Ebb's Chicago), James Naughton (Chicago), Debra Monk (Kander and Ebb's Steel Pier) and Edward Hibbert (Noises Off) participated in a 2001 reading, as did Paul Michael Valley (1776). "There were 28 actors in all," Stone told PBOL. "They were wonderful. We should be so lucky as to get them." Stone said it would be a blessing to have the tryout at Boston's Colonial Theatre — where the plot takes place.
As of early 2001, Curtains was set during the tryout of a Broadway-bound musical. The show's producers are a married couple, one of whom is murdered in the third scene. Every member of the cast and crew is a suspect, since they all have some kind of beef with the producing twosome. Stone cautioned not to look for similarities between the Curtains characters and real-life, married producers (such as Barry and Fran Weissler). "There's no similarity to Barry and Fran," he told PBOL. "They're nobody living or dead."
Curtains is a rarity in that it isn't based on source material from another medium or a play adapted into a musical. "It's an original musical not based on anything," Stone said, adding that after the murder, a homicide detective is brought in, and "by sheer coincidence, he happens to be a remarkably up to-date musical theatre buff. He's thrilled to be there with opinions and suggestions." At the reading, Naughton was the detective, with Debra Monk as the widowed producer and Hibbert the director of the musical-within-the-musical (also called Curtains).
Though Kander & Ebb's canon includes two of the most lauded works in musical theatre — Cabaret and Chicago, both still enjoying monster-hit Broadway revivals — their recent track record has been difficult. The Visit, based on Friedrich Duerrenmatt's dark satire, was eyeing Broadway but lost lead Angela Lansbury. A subsequent Chicago staging wasn't fast-tracked to Broadway but producers are exploring late 2002 pre-production for the show and a possible New York slot in spring 2003. Producers Barry Brown, Anita Waxman, Elizabeth Williams and Kevin McCollum are exploring "various options" in Manhattan for the Visit, a spokesperson told PBOL March 28.
Before that, 1999's Over & Over was poorly received in its debut at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA, although Kander told Playbill On-Line in fall 2001 that the material is still being worked on. Manhattan Theatre Club is exploring the material.
Kander and Ebb's last new hit was Kiss of the Spider Woman, which won Tonys for Best Musical, Book, Score, Actor and Actress, with star Chita Rivera proving a big audience draw. Rivera was the once and future star of The Visit.
Librettist Stone has had better luck, with his revised Annie Get Your Gun taking home a Best Musical Revival Tony two seasons back, and Titanic overcoming mixed reviews to enjoy a multi-month run and Best Musical Tony win. Stone most recently finished the script for the upcoming television version of Annie Get Your Gun, to star Reba McIntire. He's also been at work on another musical, Love Me, Love My Dog with "Wichita Lineman" songwriter Jimmy Webb.
As if that weren't enough, Stone is also collaborating again with his Titanic partner, the composer-lyricist Maury Yeston, on Death Takes a Holiday, based on Alberto Casella's comedy-drama of the same name.
First on Broadway in 1929, adapted from the original Italian by Walter Ferris, Death tells of the Grim Reaper visiting earth to discover why people are so fearful of him. Or, as Stone puts it, "What can life be that they cling to it so?" Death then becomes a houseguest at a swanky nobleman's household where an engagement is being celebrated. And that's where he falls in love.
To view the fall 2001 Playbill On-Line Brief Encounter interview with composer John Kander, click here.