With a cast of 18 (and seven playing more than one role) and a band of five musicians (playing saxophone, trumpet, percussion, bass, and piano), Off-Broadstreet’s production of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “Curtains” is not a trivial undertaking.
But why should that be different? The musical itself did not get off to a smooth start. Peter Stone, the man responsible for the concept and the original book, died before he had finished. Rupert Holmes rewrote the show, but Fred Ebb, responsible for the lyrics, then died before the premiere. Despite these unfortunate mishaps, the show opened on Broadway in March of 2007 and did not close until June of 2008, winning eight Tony nominations along the way.
Those clouds that hovered over the early days of “Curtains” do not seem to have affected Off-Broadstreet’s production. Although there were some minor glitches on opening night, that’s to be expected when a small company puts on a musical intended for big-time Broadway.
The focus of many of the routines — for example, flashlights in one, oars in another — is unusual, to say the least. But the company was adept at managing in its limited space to achieve effects undoubtedly written with a larger theater in mind.
The play’s action takes place during the Boston tryout of a musical that is in bad shape. Its terrible leading lady is killed opening night, and some scurrying is clearly necessary to keep the show going. A detective who happened to be in the theater the night of the murder locks down the cast. Forced to remain in the theater, the company begins to work on the show.
“Curtains” combines show-biz business (the original star’s incompetence and low wages) and a murder mystery, with three of the characters dead by the final curtain. In any case, the plot set up is more interesting than the plot itself, and there is certainly enough going on to keep most members of the audience entertained.
This Off-Broadstreet cast is a combination of old hands and newcomers, with some of the latter still students, and the ratio of seasoned actors to newcomers is probably lower than is usual at OBT. Yet the level of acting, in particular the level of the ensemble, is high enough to keep the audience from losing the thread — not easy to achieve when the show is this complicated.
The cast line up starts with Jim Petro, who, as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi, comes to investigate the crime, turns out to be a would-be thespian, and finds himself enchanted with one of the women. OBT regulars have seen Petro as Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Plaid Tidings.”
Barry Abramowitz, an OBT audience favorite, is Sidney Bernstein, the show’s senior producing partner and active philanderer. Abramowitz also appears as a member of the chorus, which leads to an interesting question for the design team: is the fit (misfit?) of Abramowitz’s toupee meant to be significant? Past roles Abramowitz has done at OBT include, most recently, the detective in “Violet Sharp,” Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha,” and Big Jule in “Guys and Dolls.”
John Bergeron, here seen as Aaron Fox, the show’s composer, is another OBT regular. So are Cindy Chait, cast as co-producer and Sidney’s long suffering wife; N. Charles Leeder, who plays stage manager Johnny Harmon (and is identified in the program as “a local playwright, actor, juggler, and children’s show entertainer” and as the author of “the longest running show in the history of New Hope”); Nikki Milbrod, as the terrible leading lady dead five minutes into the show but returning as a member of the ensemble; Steven Okane-Murrin, playing Oscar Shapiro, a big investor in the show; and Melissa Rittman as Georgia Hendricks.
New to OBT are Sicklerville-based actor James Collins; Westminster Choir College Diana Cooper; Bordentown-based teacher Jen Davis; Westminster musical theater majors Samantha Ferrara and Alexander Robin Kass; Hofstra University theater student Jordan Schnoor; Oklahoma City University sophomore and Bordentown resident Arden Walker; and Sean Magnacca, who has performed at Rider and as a professional.
The curtain falls on “Curtains” on August 10.
Curtains, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell. Through Saturday, August 10. Desserts served an hour before show, $29.50 to $31.50. 609-466-2766 or www.off-broadstreet.com.