Curtains was the last show John Kander and Fred Ebb worked on together before Ebb’s death in 2004. The most notable thing about the original Broadway run of this 1950s-set backstage musical whodunnit was what a great, Tony-winning vehicle it provided for star David Hyde Pierce.
Similarly, the greatest strength of Paul Foster’s slickly executed, handsomely mounted touring revival is what a terrific showcase it is for Jason Manford. The role of Frank Cioffi, the musical theatre-loving detective who puts a Boston theatre and the cast of its failing show on lockdown after the murder of its leading lady, suits Manford to a tee. He imbues the character with a likeable, puppy doggish charm as the lonely lieutenant becomes as wrapped up in fixing the production’s problems as he is with catching the culprit.
Unfortunately, although lots of fun is had with its in-jokey premise, the mystery element never really takes flight. Rupert Holmes’ story ebbs and flows, and stalls completely whenever the show-within-a-show – a hokey, Wild West version of Robin Hood – takes centre stage. Kander’s music soars in places – and is stirringly performed by a lush-sounding nine-piece band – but the show contains little in the way of memorable tunes.
Ensemble numbers such as The Woman’s Dead and Show People come closest, thanks largely to Alistair David’s quirkily original choreography and Ebb’s occasionally sharply witty lyrics. A hard-working cast also does everything asked of it, with Rebecca Lock standing out as the show’s acerbic producer and Samuel Holmes’ camply arch director spitting out his putdowns with comic precision.