PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera's production of "Curtains" was a joyous and engaging time spent at the theater.
The musical, which ended its run at the Benedum Center on Sunday, is set in 1959 at Boston's Colonial Theater during the out-of-town tryout for "Robbin' Hood of the Old West" - the well-known story of Robin Hood, only in a western setting.
The extremely untalented and stuffy leading lady is murdered after a performance. Lt. Frank Cioffi of the Greater Boston Police goes on the case. Along the way, even as more people in the theater are mysteriously murdered, Cioffi delves into more than simply trying to solve their murders. Cioffi's intense adoration for musical theater helps guide the suffering "Robbin' Hood" in a direction that the cast, crew and Cioffi himself hope leads to Broadway.
Malcolm Gets played Cioffi with a noble tenderness. As Cioffi, Gets was heart-warmingly passionate about getting "Robbin' Hood" into shape for Broadway. One could not help but be completely swept up in his character's desire for the show to succeed due to Gets' infectiously sweet and zealous characterization. Gets also exhibited a smooth singing voice and subtle charming comedic abilities.
Sally Struthers played the role of "Robbin' Hood's" tough-talking, strong-willed producer Carmen Bernstein. Struthers, though comical of course, brought a seriousness to her character that allowed her to command her scenes with more than just her uncanny comedic timing.
Ashley Spencer, known for being a finalist on NBC's "You're the One That I Want," played innocent understudy Niki Harris. Spencer carried off her character's innocence very believably. Her scenes with Gets' Cioffi were particularly sweet and a joy to watch.
Danette Holden, who played Georgia Hendricks, "Robbin' Hood's" lyricist and eventual leading lady, presented a strong and passionate singing voice and played her love scenes with Rob Sutton's Aaron Fox - the composer of "Robbin' Hood" - with an ease and sincerity. However, it did seem at times, especially when left to herself, that she seemed to force her emotions.
Sutton's most memorable moment was his ballad "I Miss the Music," which he sings about how he misses his lyricist and ex-wife Georgia.
David Elder was a standout as Bobby Pepper, the dashing leading man of "Robbin' Hood." Elder, who played the role on Broadway for a time, displayed a charm and natural ease that made his presence eye-catching. His acrobatic dancing skills and his ability to play romantic and tender scenes also made for a well-rounded performance.
"Curtains'" consists mostly of witty and light-hearted dialogue. Although tongue-and-cheek statements surface and seem to be a bit over-the-top or unnecessary, it's important to know that both "Curtains" and "Robbin' Hood" are styled after old-fashioned musicals and to enjoy the frivolity of the dialogue. Also encountered are some heart-felt statements about love and engaging banter that forces the audience to lean into the musical's murder-mystery aspect. Most importantly, audiences will encounter how fondly the theater is talked about in "Curtains."
The choreography, though mostly very entertaining with its fun western style and its old-fashioned musical style flair, still left something to be desired. It seemed that the choreography did not reach its full potential and was pulled back.
The musical also features a beautiful and up-tempo score by John Kander and Fred Ebb, the composer and lyricist respectively of the hits "Chicago" and "Cabaret." Additional lyrics are by John Kander and Rupert Holmes.
"Curtains" is the perfect show for those who enjoy whodunits and those who want to be entertained by a mixture of mystery, romance and musical comedy. But it is especially for those who love the theater and know what a treasure the art is to work in and admire simply as an audience member.
(Reed recently graduated from the Franciscan University of Steubenville as an English major with a drama concentration.)