'Curtains' rises on Broadway spoof

Woodside Community Theatre's production sparkles with toe-tapping songs, clever dialogue

"Show People" are a special breed, according to the signature song of "Curtains," the toe-tapping Broadway musical that leaves audiences humming. For pure escapism, Woodside Community Theatre's production of the 2007 Tony Award-nominated whodunit is just the ticket. Kudos to new Woodside director Jay Manley for bringing this get-happy show to the stage.

Without the murky undercurrents and caustic wit of other John Kander and Fred Ebb collaborations -- among them "Cabaret" and "Chicago" -- "Curtains" is a wise-cracking comedy seasoned with risqué innuendos and campy song-and-dance numbers. Sure, there are murders, but who cares who's to blame? There's just enough poignancy in the drama -- and an occasional dissonant note in the score -- to keep audiences engaged.

This is a show about shows. The curtain rises on the hilariously bad play-within-a-play "Robbin' Hood," a Wild West melodrama doomed to die during its Boston tryout. Boa-bedecked leading lady Jessica Cranshaw (Darlene Batchelder), who can neither sing, dance nor act, flubs the finale, thwarting the show's chances to get to Broadway. Yet as Jessica grabs her bouquets, she collapses onstage along with the production, and it turns out she's been murdered.

Is this a blessing or a curse? Who will be next? Who will take the heat? And can this musical be saved? The reviews are scathing, particularly that of Boston Globe critic Daryl Grady (David Carr).

Backstage the next day, sassy co-producer Carmen Bernstein (Nancy Krosse, whose deliciously deadpan style steals the show) assesses the damage and curses the critics, along with funder Oscar Shapiro (Doug Brees), lyricist Georgia Hendricks (Stephanie Case) and composer Aaron Fox (Tim Reynolds). Director Christopher Belling (played by Ron Lopez Jr., with an off-kilter English accent and over-the-top effeminacy) offers a plan: Lyricist Georgia should take over the lead.

Complications abound: Understudy Niki Harris (Lindsay Schulz), the blond ingénue who thinks the role is rightfully hers, objects. So does Bambi (Breanna van Gastel), an incredible dancer with the moves of a gymnast, who happens to be co-producer Carmen's underappreciated daughter. Aaron, Georgia's ex-husband who still carries a torch, is not thrilled about having her play opposite her new love interest, leading man Bobby Pepper (Gary Stanford), a triple threat onstage and a singular threat to Aaron. In the most poignant number of the show, "I Miss the Music," Aaron reveals the depths of his loss. Writing a song without a partner is lonely work.

Who's gonna save the day? Enter bumbling Boston detective and amateur actor Frank Cioffi (Matt Waters), with grand aspirations himself: Woo the blonde and grab the limelight by keeping the show alive (oh, and maybe solve the murder).

The plot thickens. Meanwhile, enjoy the show, cleverly choreographed by Dottie Lester-White, with musical direction by conductor Richard Gordon and choral director Kristin Pfeifer. The visuals are another treat, with hand-painted sets by Shari Steele and set design by technical director Akio Patrick, assisted by his brother, master builder Steve. Another Patrick, Akio's wife, Karen, heads the costume crew, whose over-the-top mermaid outfits stop the show in "In the Same Boat." Picture three guys -- and three women in sailor hats -- wielding paddles as they stand behind cardboard rowboats while cardboard waves below them shift back and forth, revealing mermaids in flesh-toned tops with strategic cones.

"He Did It," set in Pullman-style sleeping compartments backstage, is another visual showstopper. In succession, choristers draw the cubicles' curtains, shining flashlights as they shed light on their suspicions.

However, as the cast warns at the curtain call: "... whatever you do, don't reveal who killed who, or it just might be curtains for you."

Halloween theatergoers can slather on the greasepaint, don a costume and continue the show in the lobby. Coconut bras, anyone?

What: Woodside Community Theatre's "Curtains"

Where: Woodside High School Performing Arts Center, 199 Churchill Ave., Woodside

When: Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 30-Nov. 1, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 2, at 2 p.m.

Cost: $15 students, $28 adults and $25 seniors

Info: Go to woodsidetheatre.com or call 800- 838-3006.

Correction: The original version of this article misidentified the conductor. His name is Richard Gordon. We regret the error.

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