Jason Manford as Lt. Frank Cioffi. Pictures: Richard Davenport


The Alexandra Theatre


We open with the sort of show that would turn any theatre into a bingo hall overnight but sadly, or more thankfully, in this case, the star, whose talents, if there were any, resided far from the stage, suffered what she had already done to the show, and was murdered.

Set in 1959 the show within the show, Robbin’ Hood!, is a sort of western musical which would appeal to fans of Oklahoma who were tone deaf, were happy, or at least remained calm, as long as things on stage moved and were in colour, oh, and were only allowed out when it was not a full moon. Turkeys don’t come any bigger.

The best bit of the entire show was Nia Jermin putting her character Jessica Cranshaw – and the audience – out of their collective misery by the finest death scene of her career. Sadly, it was the only death scene of her career, the ultimate in method acting.

Which gave us that sad, sad . . . no it wasn’t . . . that oh so funny, in a minor, sombre key, The Woman’s Dead, which as the crocodile tears dried, brought in Jason Manford as the theatre loving Boston homicide detective Lt Frank Cioffi in this musical within a musical from the creators of Chicago and Cabaret – they really do like alliteration in their titles. 

Manford is best known as a comic and presenter but he has more strings to his bow than that. All right, when it comes to dance he is not going to win Strictly any time soon, but he can sing, and sing well with a voice that shows solid training, and he dances well enough to get by.

He has a comic’s impeccable timing but more than that he is fully believable as the star struck detective, with little glances and asides along with facial expressions that tell tales, lighting up his performance and, like the rest of the cast, he appears to be having the time of his life on stage, and that is infectious, spreading a happy warmth through the audience.

It is a fine performance justifying his star billing, although in Curtains he is only one star among many in a sparkling cast. Rebecca Lock is wonderful as Carmen Bernstein, the flame haired, hard-nosed producer of the show, hiding a heart of gold, with some cracking and wonderfully risqué lines as well as a philandering and remarkably unlikeable husband, Sidney, played by Mark Sangster, and a daughter, Bambi, Emma Caffrey, who hates her.


Rebecca Lock as Carmen Bernstein


Caffrey’s lovely Bambi is trying so hard to make it with Carmen putting her down at every opportunity. Incidentally, why did she choose Bambi as her professional name? Remember what happened to Bambi’s mother . . . ?

Then there is Christopher Belling the oh so English, oh so callous director played by Samuel Holmes displaying a lovely line in biting and cruel wit – and a delicious collection of one liners,

We have love interest from Leah West’s Niki, like a bridesmaid who is never a bride, an understudy who is never the star. She falls for our good detective and he for her and we all know where that will end . . . ahhhhhh.

Then there is a love triangle with the divorced song writing duo of Aaron Fox and Georgia Hendricks, played by Andy Cox and Carley Stenson, with Aaron still carrying a torch burning bright for his ex, and then, back on the scene, there is Georgia’s old flame Bobby, played by Alan Burkitt, and what a pity choreographer Alistair David couldn’t have worked some tap in there somewhere – Burkitt and tap is worth the ticket price alone!

Just to add realism, and, of course, class, we even have a critic from the Boston Globe, Daryl Grady, Adam Rhys-Jones, whose acerbic review is the inspiration for the second number, What Kind of Man? which merrily slags off theatre critics – and which, under the rules of engagement of Her Majesty’s Press Corps, means an automatic deduction of a star.

But, Manford, late in the show, wisely extols the virtues and genius of the “noble profession of theatrical journalists” – what a nice chap, brilliant performer – must remember to put that star back. Flattery gets you everywhere in this busiess.

Curtains travels on a well-trodden path with the likes of Kiss Me Kate and Noises Off having gone before, and here John Kander and Fred Ebb have created a musical mixing murder and show people, homicide and comedy, and it works.

It might not have the bite or dark underbelly of Cabaret and Christopher Isherwood's 1930's Berlin, nor the light hearted dismissal of death of 1920’s Chicago, but it does have an intriguing murder mystery set in a theatre. It’s all a little tongue-in-cheek but the story is strong enough to carry it along with some dramatic and even moving moments, such as Aaron’s heartfelt song of lost love, I miss the music.

That has a happier reprise with Georgia and Aaron in the second act with Thinking of Missing the Music.

The first act sets the scene well although the second perhaps hangs around a little too long with a couple of numbers that add little apart from time to the show.

The second act sees a clever working though of Robbin’s troublesome number, In The Same Boat, which pops up in three versions, each equally bad, as a sort of running theme until Cioffi has his directorial epiphany and we get a sort of Guys and Dolls moment – remember Fugue for Tinhorns?

The set from David Woodhead is a delight with a gilded proscenium that would grace any palace of vaudeville in the golden age, a series of sets for Robbin’ Hood! that a village hall drama society might use at a push and a backstage where most of the action takes place that smacked of real theatre, and indeed the script is peppered with theatrical terms and references, showing a great affection for shows and show people.

Tim Mitchell’s lighting is unobtrusive, apart from two Hollywood premiere style swirling spots on the curtains at the start of each act. It is efficiently effective while Tom Marshall’s sound design was spot on – thanks no doubt to operators Neil McNally and Matt Early at their desks in the rear stalls.

As a show it perhaps does not have the cachet of Cabaret or name of Chicago, both having the huge advantage of hit films to promote their cause, but it is great fun, it has some good songs and, despite a body count to rival Midsomer Murders, it has real heart. By the end you really care about the characters – well the ones still alive at any rate. It is an entertaining and enjoyable musical that will have you heading off home happy with a smile on your face – and you can’t ask for more than that. To 09-11-19

Roger Clarke


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