Curtains has an impressive pedigree – music and lyrics by Kander and Ebb (of Chicago and Cabaret fame) and a successful Broadway run starring David Hyde Pierce (who won a Tony for his performance.) Although the show was performed in the area recently, this was my first time seeing it, and I was looking forward to it. I left with a bad taste in my mouth.
It’s 1959 in Boston and the Colonial Theatre has just launched the musical Robbin’ Hood. As the cast comes out for curtain call, the lead actress, Jessica Crenshaw (Elisa Verb) is murdered. Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Steve Maggio) arrives and orders everyone to stay in the theater. The cast rushes to rehearse the show with a new lead, one of the songwriters, Georgia (Heather-Liz Copps); the production team worries about money, the terrible reviews and the dwindling hopes that the show will go to Broadway, and Lieutenant Cioffi and the show’s ingenue, Niki (Kelly M. Sienkiewicz) work together to solve the case as feelings between them begin to grow.
Let’s start with the good – because there was a lot of good. Copps was stellar; her vocals and acting were equally strong. Alex Perone, as Aaron, her ex-husband and fellow songwriter, was also a standout; his work on “I Miss the Music” was deeply emotional. Maggio, although not the strongest vocally, was bashfully winsome; his work with Sienkiewicz was perfect old-school romance. Emily Fuller’s dancing was excellent in “Kansasland” and her work as Bambi was strong, as well, and Melissa Putterman Hoffman, Peter Caracappa and Gary M. Hoffman all did fine work as the harried production team.
As for what didn’t work: the show itself. It’s 2018. We don’t need a show with homophobia, misogyny and cultural appropriation being played for laughs. The show was set in 1959, yes, but it was written in the early 2000s; no excuse there. Things that aren’t funny: broad homosexual caricatures; women being used as props; a “joke” about sexual harassment in the workplace; and an entire dance sequence where a scantily-clad white woman in Native American garb is passed around to a group of leering, groping white men, then is attacked by a group of angry white women. Could this have been fixed, if it’s how the show is written? With some tweaks, yes, it could have been mitigated, and the show’s structural integrity would still be intact.
This comes down to play submission and selection. We can’t keep acting shocked when someone is discriminated against for their gender, race or sexuality when we’re using it to get a cheap laugh. Thought and care need to be taken. We need to do – we need to be – better.
“Curtains”, Schenectady Light Opera Company, 427 Franklin St., Schenectady, March 9-18, $28-$22, Runtime: 2 hours and 50 minutes with a 15-minute intermission, (877) 350-7378, http://www.sloctheater.org/
This review has been updated.