AISLE SAY San Francisco


Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Additional lyrics by John Kander & Rupert Holmes
Book by Rupert Holmes
Based on an original Book & Concept by Peter Stone
Directed by Nancy Fitzgerald-Metzler
Presented by Hillbarn Theatre
1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City, CA / (650) 349-6411

Reviewed by Judy Richter

"Curtains," the musical being presented by Hillbarn Theatre, is by John Kander and Fred Ebb, the team behind the great "Cabaret" and "Chicago."

It was the last collaboration between composer Kander and lyricist Ebb, who died in 2004 before its completion. Rupert Holmes, who wrote the book based on a concept by the late Peter Stone, stepped in to write the final lyrics in conjunction with Kander.

The show opened on Broadway in 2007 and received eight Tony nominations even though it wasn't up to the standards of "Cabaret" and "Chicago."

Hillbarn's production has some echoes of the show's less-than-ideal genesis. At least it did on opening night, when a program insert listed substitutes for two minor characters and a key member of the creative team.

Whether those changes reflect inherent problems or just unforeseen circumstances isn't known. What is known is that opening night had some troublesome design issues and a sense that more rehearsal time might have helped this show directed by Nancy Fitzgerald-Metzler, who also co-designed the lighting

"Curtains" is a whodunit as well as a tribute to show people. It's set in 1959 in a Boston theater where a new musical comedy, "Robbin' Hood of the Old West," is being staged prior to moving to New York.

"Robbin' Hood's" leading lady, Jessica Cranshaw (Deborah Rosengaus), can't sing, act or dance, but while the cast is taking is bows, she faints and is taken to a hospital. Shortly thereafter, the cast learns that she had died of poisoning.

Police Lt. Frank Cioffi (overly low-key Ross Neuenfeldt) orders everyone to stay in the theater because they're all possible suspects. During his investigation, he becomes attracted to an actress, Niki Harris (Brandy Collazo). In addition, he soon has two more murders to investigate.

Although he makes his living as a cop, he's a musical theater buff who begins suggesting ways to improve the show.

A subplot involves the show's composer, Aaron Fox (Christopher M. Nelson), who's unhappy that his longtime lyricist and lover, Georgia Hendricks (Katherine Stein), has become involved with one of the actors.

Other key characters are brassy producer Carmen Bernstein (Sasha Motalygo); her performer daughter, Bambi Bernet (Jessica Maxey); and director Christopher Belling (Raymond Mendonca, the cast's only Equity actor).

Most of the singing is at least adequate, but Motalygo as Carmen, especially in "It's a Business"; and Stein as Georgia, as in "Thataway!" are the standouts. The latter song, which closes Act 1, is the most evocative of the familiar Kander-Ebb style.

One of the more poignant songs is "I Miss the Music," sung by Nelson as Aaron. In it the composer sings about missing his collaborations with Georgia, but it's widely believed to be Kander's tribute to Ebb, his late lyricist.

Choreography by Jayne Zaban is highlighted by the terrific "Kansasland" routine with its pas de deux for Charlie Fields as Bobby and the unbelievably agile Maxey as Bambi.

The serviceable set is by Andrew J. Diggins with colorful costumes by Valerie Emmi. Musical direction is by Tony Asaro, but the orchestral accompaniment is recorded.

Sometimes that accompaniment overwhelms the singers in the sound design by Jesse Scarborough, who apparently stepped in for Alan Chang at the last minute.

The most egregious technical glitches on opening night were in the lighting co-designed by Fitzgerald-Metzler and Stephanie Dittbern. It appeared that several cues were missed, leaving some scenes -- and the audience -- in the dark, especially for the third of the three murders.

Despite the shortcomings, the show has its merits thanks to some fine performances and a plot that keeps people wondering whodunit until nearly the final curtain.

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