“Curtains”   2 June 2012   John McIntosh Arts Centre, Fulham

Thank you very much for inviting me to Wimbledon Light Opera’s production of Kander & Ebbs “Curtains” recently at the London Oratory School. Thanks also to Marion Barton for making the ticket arrangements.

Brief Synopsis

‘Curtains’ unfolds backstage at the Colonial Theatre in Boston, 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, Lt. Frank Cioffi arrives on the scene to conduct an investigation. But the lure of the theater 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. A Broadway hit in 2007, ‘Curtains’ is silly even by the fluffy standards of musical comedy. People keep getting murdered during rehearsals, but, hey, gang, the show must go on.

In recent times WLOS have certainly been extending their repertoire into the more unusual and seldom performed musical productions available. I think this is to the society’s credit and demonstrates a willingness to bring different shows to their audience but will also satisfy the artistic desires of the company. ‘Curtains’ is a show I have only recently become aware of as strangely two societies within the area are undertaking the show a few miles and a few months apart.

My overall opinion was that this was a strong production which had some great leads and was well presented. The script is very funny and was delivered with great skill. The business was slick, the chorus singing was strong and the set and costumes looked really good. My only slight gripes was the occasional spluttering of words, the odd tuning issue and one or two accents tended to slip but these are minors points in what was otherwise a very tight production. The show reminded me of many Broadway musicals with 42nd Street high up on my list. I thought ‘A Tough Act to Follow’ was very similar to ‘Dames’ from 42nd Street. There are definitely overtones of their other two ‘C’ collaborations, ‘Chicago’ and ‘Cabaret’ as well as the classic ‘Singin’ in the Rain’. Some songs were catchier than others but I have to praise the production numbers in particular. There was plenty for your large cast to get their teeth into and they worked their socks off. All standards of dancing ability was catered for and I particularly enjoyed ‘Show People’, the Vaudeville number ‘Thataway’, ‘Kansasland’ with 6+6 dancers, ‘A Tough Act to Follow’ and ‘Wide Open Spaces’. This was a true ensemble piece.

Congratulations must go to a wonderful creative team led by Angela Daniel as Director, Mithu Lucraft and Georgina Christmas as Choreographers and to Jon Mizler as Musical Director thoroughly in control of a marvellous orchestra. Especially Angela, she was a latecomer to the role of Director and also played, very skilfully the part of Jessica Cranshaw. For every serene swan on stage there is a team paddling like heck behind stage to keep the action to a high standard. I can’t mention everyone individually but technically, the show was well executed. The Lighting plot was effective as was the Sound Design – very important considering it was a relatively bare set and it is a technically difficult show. The costumes were excellent and suitably eye-catching where appropriate. Last and certainly not least we have the marvellous crew of stagehands, set designers, ASM, DSM etc under Kerri Connors and Janet Huckle. WLOS is very lucky to have such a great band of helpers who contribute in many ways and they should never be taken for granted.

There are too many named principals to comment on individually in detail and this was a true ensemble production but I have written a few notes on the principals who all had challenging parts;

A good whodunit story always needs the lead detective to be at the top of his game and Jonny Clines was immense in his role as Lt Frank Cioffi. He was believable yet had a keen eye for the one liners. In other words, one minute he was a hardnosed detective trying to solve heinous crimes and the next he would be giving out tap dancing advice. The supporting cast is uniformly strong, especially Dianne Norton as the tough-broad producer Carmen Bernstein and Ian Ward as the comical and outrageously camp theatre director Christopher Belling.Then there is Robbin’ Hood’s song-writing team: the once-married Georgia Hendricks (Marion Barton) and Aaron Fox (Jason Thomas). She’s dating the choreographer and he spends his time mooning around after her – living out regret. Apparently even more so, when she takes over the late Jessica Cranshaw’s role. Both Marion and Jason gave strong performances. Add into the mix Emily McDonald as Niki Harris, local Boston performer and Cranshaw’s understudy, who sees Robbin’ Hood as the way to make dreams of New York come true. And Laura Hutchinson as “Bambi” Bernet, who simply is not being given the chance to let her true talent shine. Both ladies landed winning performances and were suitably funny – I always enjoy watching these ladies perform. Our Director Angela Daniel extravagantly played as tone deaf and clueless, our ‘star’ Jessica Cranshaw who makes an exit stage right fairly early in the piece. Other notable performances came from Jaco Botha as our stiff male star of Robbin’ Hood, Naomi Fieldus was tough but charming in her role as the Stage Manager, Nick Simpson (a little bit cockney) as Daryl Grady, the critic, had the right kind of hard-bitten attitude and both Hamish Norbrook and Paul Sadler appeared to be relishing their roles as Oscar Shapiro and Sidney Bernstein respectively. Luke Burgess and Adam Walker made up the principal list as Randy Dexter and Harv Fremont respectively.

The souvenir programme had an excellent layout and there was plenty of interesting society reading to be done. Short biogs and especially photographs are always very welcome as it shows the relevant experience and growth of performers. There was also a nice NODA advert – thank you.

Once again thank you for inviting me to the London Oratory School and best wishes for your ’Olde Tyme Music Hall’ later in the year.

I look forward to seeing you again soon and if I can be of any assistance at any time, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kindest Regards

Stephen Macvicar

NODA Rep

London Area 3

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