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  • Writer's pictureFrances

Curtains Review | Palace Theatre | Manchester

Paul Foster’s showstopping musical offers audiences the comical theatrics of a live production, in front and behind the stage curtain. Playfully embodying Agatha Christie and Columbo within its plot, Curtains certainly revels in its startling moments within its twisty, turny narrative.

After the lead in Robbin Hood has been mysteriously murdered on opening night, it is left to the singing detective, Frank Cioffi to investigate the cast and crew while they attempt to keep the show afloat. Allowing us to join the dots between its questionable collection of theatre talent, audiences are introduced to a barrage of would-be criminals including the cast, the producer, chorographer, composer, understudy and theatre critic, who are stirred up in a boiling pot of love triangles, bribery and revenge. With more than enough backstage dealings to keep audiences overanalysing all the characters motives until the finale, the show is weighted by its cast’s backstories and score, that is chiefly used to develop the casts motives.

Comedian Jason Manford, who starred in the stage adaptions of The Producers and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang leads as detective Frank. The musical loving lieutenant, assisted by Ore Oduba (Aaron Fox) and Carley Stenson (Georgina Hendricks), offers solid performances in the energetic whodunnit, with a range of stage and screen talent keeping the sense of mystery and music alive. In a haze of smoke, cardboard cut-out set pieces and stage lights, the shift between the casts chaos lives off stage issues and the shows “live” musical performances keeps the songs flowing freely.

Manford’s eccentric performance as the theatre loving detective brought the levity to this light drama, alongside the scene-stealing Samuel Holmes as the director. Full of one-liners, the musical interludes by the fantastic Stenson (Les Miserable), Rebecca Lock (Heathers and Mamma Mia), and Samuel Holmes (The Wedding Singer), bring boundless energy to the musical acts. The Palace theatre stage is left relatively bare for this 1950’s Boston period piece, with painted backdrops and costume changes taking precedent. The blank guise does allow its cast to fill the space with their peculiar personalities and allows for several full company performances that harken back to the memorable musical classics like Guys and Dolls.

Originally written by Peter Stones and adapted by Rupert Holmes after Stones death, Curtains features the music of the classic Broadway duo John Kander and Fred Ebb. With the Tony award-winning composers behind the songs of Cabaret and Chicago, the shows musical flares feed the delightful murder mystery with toe-tapping numbers between its scenes of jolting reveals. The best moments in the show are when it leans on its laidback numbers plucked from its vague cowboy-themed production. The fantasy elements bring ambitious, high kicking choreography and ambiguous but ultimately catchy songs. The track Thataway! could have been plucked from Chicago as scantily clad southern belles, scandalously dance in a saloon, bathed in red lighting, singing about how to seduce a man.

Curtains split life between its on and off-stage antics makes it a distinct production that offers subtle musical moments interweaved in its fully-fledged murder mystery narrative. It is an old-fashioned show despite initially premiering in 2006, but its familiar feel makes it a charming addition. Jason’s comedic touches aids in prolonging the surprisingly lavishly cast of suspects, but it is a show that ensures audiences will be kept laughing and in the dark until the final moments.

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