Musical theater and murder unveiled in ‘Curtains’

From the creators of “Chicago” and “Cabaret,” the musical “Curtains” is a high-energy production, pulling the audience through a zoo of characters and plot twists. Along with a few moments of ingenuity in directing, Lawrence Community Theatre’s cast lends the musical enough energy to zip along quickly.

The musical-within-a-musical plot centers on a murder. The entire cast is held in their own theater until Det. Frank Cioffi, (Dennis Tyner), a lawman with a taste for dramaturgy, can solve the crime. As the musical goes on, Cioffi finds himself solving more murders as well as working with the troop to reinvent their failing musical production.

“Curtains” is a musical about musicals and the odd characters that populate that world, both on the stage and off. The people are all a little nuts and they’ve got no qualms singing it to the world. This panoply of characters is what really counts in “Curtains,” and it seems that director Jeff Montague understands that.

Tyner enthusiastically plays an emotive detective, at one moment prancing around the stage, foolishly in love with one of his suspects, and in the next stoically withholding evidence from the audience. Det. Cioffi is a lucky fool, a born-theater director who has a heart too soft for his day job.

Many of the actors do well, but the real entertainment of the musical comes from their chemistry with one another. The production is brightest when everyone is onstage and the fictional troop is rehearsing under the condescending British-accented director played by Peter Hansen.

A trio played by Amanda Thomas, Widge Yager and Kendra Verhage sing surprisingly well in their “In the Same Boat” number, and the actresses do fine besides. In the moments that they sing together, the trio impresses. The female cast often overshadows the male cast. The charisma of Hash-Hires, Thomas and Yager is hard to overcome; Tyner’s detective and Belling’s director are the only male characters that stick in the mind after the production is over.

The humor of the musical is in witticisms and comebacks, some of which are clever and some of which are not. The production as a whole is funny if the viewer can get past some of the lame jokes:

“She’s got a pulse?”

“That’s the first time she’s carried a beat!”

The script of the musical allows for some character development, but the love scenes and accompanying songs are not as enthralling as the fast-paced showstoppers. More energy has been devoted to the showier portions of the musical, and it shows. One especially clever arrangement is Yager’s leading of the “Thataway” song. Carried around by 20-something men in a French cabaret-style production, Georgia’s age difference takes center stage. Perhaps
commentary on the too-often casting of a young actress into a lead role, the scene breaks the mold. And it generates some laughs.

The set is mostly austere and the lighting of the production is straightforward. Costuming is elaborate at times, complete with 19th-century American Cavalry getup and plains-inspired dresses and cowboy attire. The intimate theater setting certainly helps the production, putting the viewer physically closer to the cast. The audience surrounds three sides of the set, and the actors and director do a good job of showing the production through multiple angles.

Though the production could be fleshed out in other areas, the
directing and acting are enough to make it worthwhile. The chemistry of the leads and the supporting female cast lend this musical the energy it needs to entertain, and it is easy to be entertained by “Curtains.”