AISLE SAY San Francisco


Book by Rupert Holmes
Original Book by Peter Stone
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Additional Lyrics by John Kander and Rupert Holmes
Directed by Jay Manley
Presented by Foothill Music Theatre
Lohman Theatre
Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills, CA / (650) 949-7360

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Combine a whodunit with an homage to show people and what you have is "Curtains," the latest presentation of Foothill Music Theatre. It's another example of the creative talents of composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, the team that gave us Broadway smashes like "Cabaret" and "Chicago."

After Ebb died in 2004, before its completion, Rupert Holmes, who had written the "Curtains" book based on a concept by the late playwright Peter Stone, stepped in to write the final lyrics. The show opened on Broadway in 2007 and garnered eight Tony Award nominations.

Although the show isn't up to the standards of "Cabaret" and "Chicago," it offers its share of delights. The story is set on the stage of a Boston theater where a new musical comedy, "Robbin' Hood," is being staged prior to moving to Broadway. It opens with the final number on opening night, when the decidedly untalented leading lady of "Robbin Hood" (Reggie Reynolds) subsequently faints during the curtain call, is taken to a hospital and dies. In the meantime, the reviews are terrible.

The news gets worse when Police Lt. Frank Cioffi (Ryan Drummond) shows up, announces that the leading lady was poisoned and orders everyone to remain in the theater for questioning. It turns out he's a bit of a theater nut, so besides investigating the murder, he suggests ways to improve the show. He also falls for a cast member, Niki Harris (Katie Blodgett), then finds himself investigating two more murders of people involved with the show. A subplot involves the show's composer, Aaron Fox (Michael Rhone), who is saddened that his longtime lyricist and lover, Georgia Hendricks (Alicia Teeter), has become involved with one of the actors.

As he has done with so many other FMT shows, director Jay Manley, FMT's founder and former artistic director, brings out the best in performers of all ages and levels of experience. Hence this college-community company usually stages shows in which everyone creates a believable, involved character. In this production, for example, Drummond as the police lieutenant is the only Equity actor, but several other performers come across as seasoned pros.

They include Tyler Risk as Carmen Bernstein, the hard-boiled producer who's determined to take the show to New York. Most FMT patrons know Risk for her inventive choreography, but her bio in the program says that she has returned to performing after surviving a near-fatal motorcycle crash two years ago.

Rhone as the composer is another standout, especially in "I Miss the Music," in which he sings about missing his collaborations with Georgia. According to Manley's program notes, the song includes a lyric by Kander that -- with the pronouns changed from feminine to masculine -- is seen as a tribute to Ebb, his late collaborator. Teeter as Georgia shines throughout the show.

Walter M. Mayes as Christopher Belling, the effeminate, egotistical director, is noteworthy for his acting. Gary Sanford Jr. as Bobby, the actor apparently involved with Georgia, is a terrific, athletic dancer.

Choreographer Dottie Lester-White has come up with some good numbers for the intimate Lohman Theatre's small stage. (FMT usually does its summer shows in the larger, older Smithwick Theatre, but it's closed for seismic renovation.) Musical director Mark Hanson conducts the unseen backstage band from his piano. The show also features sets by Joe Ragey, costumes by Janis Bergmann, lighting by Kurt Landisman and sound by Anthony Sutton.

This highly entertaining show has some funny lines to go with the Kanderesque songs. It's a fun evening.

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