In the panoply of the 2nd generation of composers and lyricists for the musical theatre, there are some names that stand out. One of those sets of names is John Kander and Fred Ebb, who between them wrote the music and lyrics for musicals as diverse as Flora: The Red Menace, Cabaret, The Happy Time, Chicago, 70 Girls 70, Zorba, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Steel Pier, The Act, The Rink, Woman of the Year, and Funny Lady. They also are responsible for New York, New York. Unfortunately, Fred Ebb died in 2004, ending the string.
Well, as they say in New York, New York, start spreadin’ the word. There’s a new Kander-Ebb musical out there called Curtains, which is currently in a pre-Broadway run at the Ahmanson Theatre, and it is spectacular. The show is based on a concept in development for almost 20 years by Kander, Ebb, and Peter Stone (1776). After Stone’s death in 2003 and Ebb’s death in 2004, Rupert Holmes (Mystery of Edwin Drood) was called in. Holmes revised the book and wrote some additional lyrics, resulting in what is on stage today.
Curtains is a musical comedy back-stage murder mystery. At the opening night of the Boston tryout of “Robbin’ Hood”, a western musical, the leading lady is killed. The play bombs (primarily due to this leading lady) and the cast is sequestered. A hard-nosed Boston detective (David Hyde-Pierce as Lt. Frank Cioffi), who is also a musicals aficianado, is brought in to solve the crime. While the cast attempts to remount the show with a new leading lady (the lyricist), Cioffi attempts to solve the crime, all the while offering suggestions to the director on how to improve the show. The show is a mix of numbers in the context of Robbin’ Hood, and numbers in the context of the crime scene. I found the music quite good, and am looking forward to the cast album. The show is incredibly funny — one of the funniest musicals I’ve seen in years.
Given the context it is in, the show makes many comments about the theatre scene, including the quality of producers, directors, actors, and the dalliances thereof. Some of the songs might even be viewed as a final love letter to Fred Ebb.
This is a show I predict will do well on Broadway when it makes it there.
The show stars David Hyde Pierce (Spamalot, Frasier) as Lt. Frank Cioffi. Pierce is remarkable in the role, showing not only incredible comment timing, but great vocal and dance skills. Debra Monk (Steel Pier, Pump Boys and Dinettes) plays Carmen Bernstein, the wife of the producer who is determined to have the show open. Karen Ziemba (Steel Pier, I Do! I Do!) plays Georgia Hendricks, the lyricist who becomes a star. Other significant players include Jason Danieley at Aaron Fox, Jill Paice at Niki Harris, Edward Hibbert as the director, Christopher Belling, John Bolton at Daryl Grady, Michael X. Martin at Johnny Harmon, Michael McCormick as Oscar Shapiro, Megan Sikora (a remarkable dancer) as Bambi (Elaine) Bernstein, and Robert Walden as Sidnye Bernstein. Others in the case include Nili Bassman, Ward Billeisen, Jennifer Dunne, David Eggers, J. Austin Eyer, Matt Fransworth, Patty Gobel, Mary Ann Lamb, Brittany Marcin, Jim Newman, Jessica Lea Patty, Joe Aaron Rei, Darcie Roberts, and Christopher Spaulding.
The book was originally by Peter Stone, with the updated book and additional lyrics by Rupert Holmes. Most of the music and lyrics were by John Kander and Fred Ebb. The production was directed by Scott Ellis, with choreography by Rob Ashford, sets by Anna Louizos, costumes by William Ivey Long, lighting by Peter Kaczorowski, sound by Brian Ronan, Music by David Loud, orchestrations by William David Brohn, and hair by Paul Huntley.
Next up on our theatre calendar is Fences at the Pasadena Playhouse (pasadenaplayhse). After that, things are quiet until November, when we are seeing A Chorus Line at Cabrillo, Dirk Gently at Road, and Sister Act: The Musical at the Playhouse. There are also some other shows I’m planning on seeing: proof at REP, and possibly 13 at the Taper.