Curtains at Lakewood Theatre Company

May 7 - June 13, 2010 - Oregonian review

Lakewood's 'Curtains':
Versatile, talented cast carries the day in "Curtains" Posted by OregonLive May 8, 2010


Pictured: Katie McWethy as Niki the ingenue understudy and Sammuel C. Hawkins as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi star in Lakewood Theatre Company's musical production of Curtains, playing through June 13.

Music, romance, humor, mystery. Oh, and a Busby Berkeley dance routine. “Curtains,” which earned “Frazier” star David Hyde Pierce a Tony in 2008, may not have had a long run on Broadway (15 months), but in the hands of the folks at Lakewood Theatre, the show, with its crowd of themes and complicated whodunit plot, is fun and solid, honoring the great supply of satire offered in the Kander-Ebb numbers.

It’s always tricky mounting a play within a play, which happens here, and even though we may see too much of “Robbin’ Hood,” a western version of Robin Hood set in Kansas, the show within the show makes gleeful fun of musicals like “Oklahoma,” fleshed out by a cast that can both dance and sing with sparkle. Stereotypes are spoofed, as are detective story plots, and more, as the one-liners fly thick and fast.

It’s 1959 Boston, and a slightly nerdy police lieutenant Frank Cioffi (the versatile Sammuel C. Hawkins) with an almost childlike passion for the theater tries to solve a backstage murder, and fueled by his passion for the art form, helps re-stage the bomb of a show, even as a string of murders take place during rehearsal. “Robbin’ Hood” is a real turkey, thanks to the leading lady, faded film star Jessica Crenshaw (Kate Carson), who lacks both talent and brains (“A guy was waving his hands at me,” she says in confusion. “That was the conductor,” mutters the director).

When she dies in the hospital after a mysterious accident during the curtain call, everyone seems a bit relieved, enacting a mock funeral in “She’s Dead” (“The skies are blue, her lips are, too”). Cioffi enters and introduces himself as a police investigator, explaining to the cast that Crenshaw was killed by someone, and that they’re all suspects. So are the hard-bitten co-producer Carmen Bernstein (the archly funny Corrie Graham); the divorced song-writing team Aaron Fox (Bobby Jackson) and Georgia Hendricks (Louise Stinson); and the show’s financial backer, Oscar Shapiro (Mike Diderian).

Cioffi can’t help putting in his two bits’ worth of criticism of the show, agreeing it can be improved, even when the actors decide they want to quit. “I’ve done a little community theater,” he admits modestly. “In ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ my Bottom was very well-received.”

With Carmen to help encourage the cast, Cioffi leads them in the rousing “Show People” to bolster morale. He charms Niki (Katie McWethy), the sweet-faced leading lady who can really act, and as their romance blossoms, he hopes she is not the killer. He describes the loneliness of a cop’s life in the charming, plaintive “Coffee Shop Nights,” while Niki provides some important clues that make sense later on in the story.

Two tour-de-force stage numbers in the second act add glamour and verve to the show. The mechanics of composing for the theater are revealed a bit in the reworking of  a number from “Robbin’ Hood” called “In the Same Boat.” First it’s written for three women in a canoe. Then it’s for a male trio. Finally, to put some juice in it, it’s re-staged as a grand number with the whole cast, set against an elaborate river setting, with undulating mermaids and decorative dancing. In another glorious segment, Cioffi and Niki daydream simultaneously about a perfect partnership in “A Tough Act to Follow,” an elaborate fantasy takeoff on a Busby Berkeley show-stopper, with marvelous ‘30s-style set pieces by scenic designer John Gerth.

A lot of strong vocal talent abounds here, particularly Stinson as the attractive lyricist who, last-minute, steps into the lead role, and Jackson as her ex-hubby, who still loves her. Also outstanding are Charlie Wilson as the choreographer and star of “Robbin’ Hood,” Rick Warren as crusty Sidney Bernstein and Megan H. Carver as Bambi, Carmen’s tough-talking daughter. Carver was last seen in “Forbidden Broadway” at Broadway Rose, bowling us over with her great impersonations of Carol Channing, Liza Minnelli and others.

There is some language not appropriate for children in the musical, which runs about three hours with intermission.

-- Holly Johnson, The Oregonian