Arts & Culture

Stage: Showbiz can be murder

Erik Stein as Christopher Belling, the director of ‘Robbin’ Hood,’ the play within a play that ‘Curtains’ revolves around.
Erik Stein as Christopher Belling, the director of ‘Robbin’ Hood,’ the play within a play that ‘Curtains’ revolves around. PHOTO BY CLINT BERSUCH

It’s always fun to see something new, so PCPA Theaterfest’s “Curtains” is a treat for Central Coast audiences.

The musical comedy/murder mystery premiered in 2006 in Los Angeles before it moved to Broadway, where it was nominated for eight Tony awards.

The lighthearted show is a send-up of Agatha Christie-style mysteries and Broadway musicals. The story has a tongue-in-cheek tone, but it’s told with great affection for both genres.

The PCPA production, directed by Roger DeLaurier, showcases some of the company’s finest song, dance and comic talent, as well as a skilled, high-energy dance ensemble.

It is structured as a play within a play. A cast is readying “Robbin’ Hood of the Old West,” an “Oklahoma!”-style musical set in Kansas, for a Boston run in anticipation of taking it to Broadway.

On opening night, the ditzy, no-talent star is murdered during the curtain call. Lieutenant Frank Cioffiis assigned to the case and quarantines the entire cast and crew, claiming that one of them is the killer. There are more murders and lots of singing and dancing before the crimes are solved.

Andrew Philpot plays the policeman, a musical theater fan and wannabe actor who ends up honing some of the numbers in the ailing musical. He’s sweet, but a bit dim, and Philpot is funny as he becomes more and more involved in the production and falls for one of the women in the show, played by Karin Hendricks. David Hyde Pierce won the Best Actor award for the lieutenant’s role on Broadway.

Michael Jenkinson’s considerable talents are a great asset to the production. He choreographs the fine dance numbers and sings some of the best songs as he plays a songwriter in a subplot about a recently divorced husband-and- wife songwriting team. Melinda Parrett’s singing and dancing are also excellent as she plays his former wife, who steps into the leading role vacated by the murder victim.

Erik Stein gets the most laughs as the British director of “Robbin’ Hood.” He plays the role as broad comedy, and his body language and gestures are a hoot, garnering laughs whenever he’s onstage. His friend Ophelia is played by a big, fluffy white cat.

The producer of the ill-fated show is played by Kitty Balay Genge with manic energy. She belts out some big songs and creates a strong character. Natasha Harris is good as her daughter, as well as being a fine dancer.

The supporting cast includes familiar faces such as Peter S. Hadres and Corey Jones, as well as other members of the company. Adam Schroeder is good as an acerbic theater critic.

There are more than 20 songs and production numbers in the show, some integral to the main story and some to the play being rehearsed. Many of the songs have clever lyrics, and the chorus usually enunciates well enough for them to be understood. Callum Morris is musical director. DeAnne Kennedy is scenic designer, and Frederick P. Deeben is costume designer. The creative lighting is by Tamar Geist.

“Curtains” has an interesting history, with ups and downs similar to those in the fictional “Robbin’ Hood” of the play. The initial work on the concept was done by Peter Stone, who died in 2003 with the play unfinished. Rupert Holmes rewrote the book, collaborating with composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, but Ebb also died before it was completed.

The producers went on to premiere the show in Los Angeles, then take it to Broadway. Now it’s available for regional theaters, and PCPA is one of the first on the West Coast to present it — and endow it with creative energy and good humor.

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