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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, New York

By Robert Simonson

  Jill Paice, David Hyde and company/Photo: Joan Marcus

Curtains, which opened at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre last Thursday, is what is known these days as an old-fashioned musical comedy, which means, basically, that it has hummable tunes, a standard book and generally intends to please rather than edify its audience. It, however, bears little relation to such other recent old-school musical comedies as The Producers, Hairspray and Spamalot. It arches no eyebrows, has no irony up its sleeve. It's not a meta- musical comedy, both celebrating and lampooning its form. It's actually a straight-ahead show and, as such, refreshingly free of guile.

Composer John Kander, lyricist Fred Ebb and librettist Peter Stone labored over this project for a decade, but Stone and Ebb died before it was complete, necessitating the drafting of lyricist-librettist Rupert Holmes to complete the work. Separating their work is a relatively easy task, if you know the men's artistic tendencies. The songs with heavy wordplay are identifiably Holmes. Where Kander wrote both music and lyrics, an aching sincerity comes through. And Ebb, of course, provides the most cynically witty moments.

The story is set backstage at a Boston Theatre, circa 1959, where the talentless leading lady of a struggling Broadway-bound show is knocked off, requiring the entrance of a showbiz-loving detective (David Hyde Pierce) who's more interesting in fixing the show than solving the case. The piece has its problems, including a seriously meandering first act, some (I hope) unintentionally lewd, tasteless choreography by Rob Ashford and a faltering will to go with the plot's basically darker instincts. But things vastly improve with the second act, and by curtain's end its hard not to acknowledge the enjoyment conveyed by its clever conceit, tunefulness, high spirits and several winning performance, most remarkably that of Hyde Pierce, whose airily confident charm is matched by his chops as an all-around song-and-dance man. In short, one could certainly draw the curtains on the Kander and Ebb partnership in worse fashion.


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