From the opening burst of sound and dazzling array of costumes Curtains was clearly going to be a huge success. Described as “a musical comedy whodunnit” it appeared to have something for everyone, but how would the genres meld?
The position of the orchestra on centre stage was the first indication that this would be a play within a play. The youthful cast was ready for a big production number for Robbin’ Hood of the Old West – and despite the unpromising nature of that title, injected energy, fun and tunefulness into the early moments of the play. The 15-piece band played with a jazz-era pizzazz or a rousing yee-haw (depending on which of the two plays were to the forefront), in the many songs that held the whole piece together.
Unfortunately things did not go so well for the initial leading lady, the tone-deaf soprano Jessica Cranshaw. Nicki Wendt played her short role with sufficient skill to convince us that the actor herself hid a very good voice behind the off-key notes that caused her to be mercifully shot a few minutes into the play, almost the second she opened her mouth!
A complicated but speedy system of replacement was found … and so our ingénue Niki Harris (the charming Alinta Chidzey) joined the rest of the cast in their new roles – as suspects for the murder. This scenario was directly responsible for one of the strongest elements of the drama: the appearance of Simon Gleeson as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi, charged with solving the case (and inevitably, falling for Niki). The two looked the part – and sang sweetly together – but Gleeson soon took proceedings to another comic level as Cioffi proved to be as starstruck as it was possible to be.
The detective longed to be part of the action on stage, as an actor, director, whatever was going. So extraordinary was Gleeson’s performance that he commanded attention whenever he came on stage, the audience longing for his next effort to insinuate himself into the action. This was a tour de force and one of the outstanding elements to the production.
The other was the evenness of the performance so that the ensemble pieces were as integrated as they were entertaining. The young cast looked good, danced well and sang up a storm, delivering polished performances, starting with the opening Wild West song and dance routine, “Wide Open Spaces”.
As is usual with the Production Company, younger actors get their chance to tread the boards in the company of experienced actors, such as Melissa Langton (lending a roundness of character and a clear, powerful voice to Carmen Bernstein) and the always-welcome John Wood as her husband, Sidney. As their actor daughter, Bambi, Zoe Coppinger put the brassy into blonde, yet somehow managed to make that charming. Lucy Maunder and Alex Rathgeber as the writers Georgia and Aaron, were a worthy foil for the other lovers, and the inevitably camp director was Colin Lane. All of them were perfectly cast.
The ‘real” director, Roger Hodgman, should be very proud of Curtains – and, of course, of Robbin’ Hood of the Old West. He and musical director John Foreman, led a stellar team both backstage and on the boards. The orchestra deserved to be on stage, not just for its sound but to celebrate its emergence as The Production Company Orchestra (Orchestra Victoria having decamped to the Australian Ballet).
But perhaps I should have begun with a disclaimer, because the witty writers of Curtains don’t have a lot of time for critics, reviewers, whatever you may call us. Early in the play, and following a poor review, the song, “What kind of man”, asks: “Critics! Who’d make a living out of killing other people’s dreams?”
If critics kill people’s dreams (and they may, although we at Classic Melbourne only have reviewers, not critics!), then conversely the founder and chair of The Production Company, Jeanne Pratt AC, helps many show business hopefuls realise their ambitions. By adding an orchestra to technical support and, not least, opportunities to act in these plays, Ms Pratt is a truly a patron of the arts in time-honoured style.
As “Curtains” suggests the end of something, often because it’s a failure, this latest effort should instead be called “Curtain Calls”. That’s what it got and that’s what it more than deserved!
The picture is of Alinta Chidzey and Simon Gleeson.