Staples High School Players are betting that Westport audiences are going to find the upcoming production of "Curtains," a murder mystery musical with music by John Kander and the late Fred Ebb and book by Rupert Holmes, as humorous as they do.

"It's hilarious," said Max Samuels, a senior who plays Lt. Frank Cioffi, the leading role originated on Broadway by David Hyde Pierce, of the hit television series, "Frasier."

"This is a fabulous part to play," Max said. "I watched David Hyde Pierce at the Tony Awards and he talked about he feels fortunate to be able to have a leading role that's also a character role. It's true. It's a very funny part and well written."

A veteran of several Staples productions, last season Max portrayed the debonair gambler Skye Masterson in "Guys and Dolls."

Fellow cast member Tyler Jent, who portrays Aaron Fox, said he particularly enjoys that the storyline of "Curtains" contains "a show within a show."

The plot revolves around the untimely murder of the not-so-talented star of a fictional play "Robbin' Hood of the Old West." The police detective called upon to solve the crime -- which, incidentally, takes place during the show's curtain call -- happens to be a theater aficionado. There is lots of music, dances, romance and, of course, laughter as two separate stories intersect onstage.

Known for creating most of the popular murder mystery musicals of this generation, book writer Rupert Holmes stopped by Staples High School Wednesday afternoon to chat with students about "Curtains" and offered behind-the-scenes anecdotes about theater. In support of being a part of live theater -- as an actor and audience member -- Holmes, "The experience that's going on here can't be sent on an MP3 player. You're going to make people experience a lifetime in just two hours."

A talented writer and musician, Holmes has successfully moved between musical theater, television, book writing and pop music in his stellar career. His hit songs "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" and "Him" went to the top of recording charts in 1979. In 1985, Holmes won a Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score for the musical "Drood" and was a Tony Award nominee for "Curtains" and "Say Goodnight, Gracie," a play based on the relationship between George Burns and Gracie Allen. Holmes also wrote a novel, "Where the Truth Lies," which was recently released as a motion picture movie starring Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon.

Whatever the genre, Holmes views himself as a storyteller, and he especially likes surprising his audiences with unexpected plot twists. Although he was trained as a classical musician, Holmes admitted that he didn't have any formal training in theater. "I learned about theater by going to the theater," he explained. However, he also dramatically proclaimed to his rapt listeners seated in Staples Black Box Theater this week that "writing comedy is not for the faint of heart." There is nothing worse than not getting a laugh when the writer intended there to be one.

During readings and rehearsals, Holmes admitted that he and his assistants rate each comedic line for its level of humor factor. "If it gets less than a `3' out of 5, it's out," he said. "Sometimes all you have to do is switch the order of words to make it funny, though. The bottom line is, though, it has to be funny."

Charlotte Weber, 16, a relative newcomer to Staples Players, is playing one of the female leads, Niki, in "Curtains." A member of the Fairfield County Children's Choir for eight years, Charlotte has primarily honed her singing chops outside of the Staples campus. Although she saw "Curtains" on Broadway a few years ago, Charlotte said she "fell in love" with the musical at the first rehearsal.

Like the rest of the cast and crew of Staples' "Curtains," Charlotte appreciated hearing from Holmes about the making of the musical. "I feel so much more connected to it," Charlotte stated. "After hearing about how much this show meant to so many people, I feel motivated to give all that I have to this role and this production."