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REVIEW: Curtains The Musical at Sunderland Empire

Curtains The Musical
Sunderland Empire
Tuesday 21 - Saturday 25 January 2020

Jason Manford stars in a comedy musical about a murder in the opening night of a musical in Boston, USA. Original songs and pacy direction combine with a good sense of humour to make a wonderful night at the theatre...even if one of the songs has a go at people who review theatre!

It is 1959. Robin Hood is a western musical with a problem: a drunk star Jessica Cranshaw (Nia Jermin) that keeps forgetting what she should be doing. The cast keep supporting her during the opening night but the show stinks. She collapses after taking her bow and is rushed to hospital.

The shows notices arrive and the reviews are not good at all. The producer sees the indisposed star as a chance to reboot the show with the lyricist in the lead. Then the news comes via the arriving detective Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Jason Manford): the star was murdered by cyanide capsule and this is now a murder scene.

Curtains then focuses mainly on the rewriting and rehearsal for the reopening rather than much of the interrogation. This helped in part by the policeman 's love of musical theatre- after all he had been to see Robin Hood in preview.

As is often the case,  many of the characters are caricatures of stage types. The money grabbing producers Carmen and Sidney Bernstein (Rebecca Lock & understudy Thomas -Lee Kidd), the egocentric director Christopher Belling (Samuel Holmes), the ambitious understudy Bambi (Emma Caffrey) and the quarreling writers  Georgia Hendricks and Aaron Fox (Carley Stenson & Ore Oduba). You also have the more naive understudy - and love interest Niki Harris (Leah Barbara West). Having said that - these larger than life characters work well in the comedic sense.

The choreography is tight but the set design and changes are tighter. There are some great big musical numbers with lively dancing, as befits a 50s musical, but it is the quick set changes which flip the direction  of the action on the stage that is a feature of the show.

There is a live band that not only plays the score for the musical numbers but also provides some of the sounds of the rehearsals too. The accompany some great songs: What Kind of Man? And  It’s A Business stood out in particular and in Coffee Shop Nights, Jason Manford shows that he can hold his own when it comes to singing too. Jason is more than a name on the posters to sell tickets - he acts and sings well and doesn’t feel out of place on the stage.

No spoilers here of course plenty of incidents occur in the shows running time of just under 3 hours including interval.  The lack of tension in the script is made up for in punchy songs and comedy. The reveal was a surprise but I never work these things out.

This is  a nice funny musical show which I liked. In fact, I might just keep my eye out for the cast recording.

Review by Stephen Oliver
Photos: Richard Davenport

Music - John Kander
Lyrics - Fred Ebb
John Kander (additional lyrics)
Rupert Holmes (additional lyrics)
Book  - Rupert Holmes
Based upon - Curtains by Peter Stone
Director - Paul Foster
Choreographer - Alistair David
Musical director - Alex Beetschen

Suitable for ages 12+
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