Hot on the heels of the flawed but likeable Flora The Red Menace, the Landor plays host to another Kander & Ebb show, the professional British premiere (five years after its Broadway debut) of the enormously enjoyable murder mystery musical, Curtains.
When the no-talent, all-ego leading lady of out-of-town musical Robbin Hood is killed on stage, musicals-mad Detective Frank Cioffi is sent to investigate – and finds, in the best tradition of whodunnits everywhere, there is no shortage of suspects among the cast and crew. Not exactly the most original of set ups, but it’s helped by a sharp, witty treatment by writers Rupert Holmes and Peter Stone, done justice here by an energetic and capable cast.
Rekindled romances, family feuds and backstage bitchery abound as Cioffi puts the production into lockdown while he hunts the killer, and soon the bodies start to mount up. Though the crime story is twisty enough to keep you guessing, it’s solidly played for laughs – and Curtains delivers plenty of those. While the musical numbers never quite reach the heights of the Kander and Ebb classics, they are an awful lot of fun (a song about critics got the press night audience on side from the start, while the wonderfully cynical ‘It’s a Business’ is devilishly catchy, Buster Skeggs a delight as a seen-it-all-before old broad for whom even murder isn’t surprising). They are also impressively staged: it takes a lot of skill to put on a big musical in a small space, but director Robert McWhir (assisted by clever design from Martin Thomas and choreography by Robbie O’Reilly) manages to make the most of the Landor’s compact stage, creating a real sense of the pressure cooker of the quarantined theatre (a number where the actors creep around by candlelight is particularly inspired) without ever feeling cramped or overcrowded.
In a universally strong cast, it’s hard to single anyone out, but props must go to Bryan Kennedy for his sly, self-obsessed director, who camply claims all the best lines. Jeremy Legat is charmingly enthusiastic as a smarter-than-he-seems cop who is as focused on the show as he is on the murder, and he enjoys great chemistry with Bronwyn Andrews, the ambitious actress who catches his eye. Fiona O’Carroll and Leo Andrew give the show a solid emotional core, genuinely moving as the estranged songwriting duo whose love isn’t quite as extinguished as they pretend.
Fast-paced and funny (if undeniably frivolous) – it’s hard to see why Curtains took so long to cross the pond. It may not be as memorable as its creators’ finest, so if you’re expecting Cabaret or Chicago you’re in for a bit of a let down – but if you want an undemanding, cheerful evening’s entertainment that leaves you with a smile on your face and a song stuck in your head, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.