Music and murder and romance, oh my! MacEwan University’s production of Curtains is a thoroughly entertaining whodunit, skillfully blending the worlds of drama and comedy. Written by Tony Award-winning duo John Kander and Frank Ebb of Cabaret and Chicago fame, Curtains depicts the chaos ensuing the murder of a stage production’s leading lady in 1959 Boston.
The production begins with the ensemble rehearsing their performance of Robbin’ Hood of the Old West, introducing the audience to Curtains’ unique show-within-a-show format. It quickly becomes apparent that leading lady Jessica Cranshaw is universally despised, leaving no deficit of suspects when she is murdered on opening night. The stage layout is particularly impressive, offering the audience a new perspective when the characters perform within the show for a fictional audience. The acoustics are slightly off at first, and it is difficult to hear some performers sing over the music, but these details are sure to be improved over the course of the musical’s run.
Curtains is made memorable by its dynamic song list, ranging from morbid (“The Woman’s Dead”) to provocative (“Thataway!”) to dreamy (“A Tough Act to Follow”). The cast overall is exceptionally strong, with a few standout performances. Nicholas Rose demands attention by fully embodying the role of bombastic director Christopher Belling, and Natasha Mason exudes warmth as newbie actress Niki Harris. The star of the show is without a doubt Adam Houston, who portrays protagonist Lieutenant Frank Cioffi with a combination of charisma, genuinity, and impressive intellect, all with an unwavering accent.
By far the greatest strength of the production is its exploration of a wide array of emotions, in a manner that feels neither tacky nor distasteful. Given the grave subject matter of the plot, what could become an overly moody production is instead a witty, humorous, and upbeat musical, largely due to the strong source material and outstanding cast. What is particularly impressive is that the show does not compartmentalize its evocation of contrasting emotions. Instead, the atmosphere is intense, comical, and frightening simultaneously, with different moods peaking at different times throughout the musical.
Overall, Curtains is a fantastic theatre experience that leaves you feeling excited, confused, scared, and everything in between, often all at once. Experienced and inexperienced theatregoers alike are sure to enjoy the engaging banter and captivating score.
Curtains is playing at the John L. Haar Theatre of the Centre for Arts and Communications until February 13th.
Photography Courtesy of Steven Stefaniuk, MacEwan University.