Woog's World / The curtain rises on Curtains
Published 1:51 pm, Thursday, November 11, 2010
Late fall is a fun time at Staples High School. The soccer and football teams vie for championships. Musicians tune up for holiday concerts. And Staples Players produces a big, bold show that rivals anything you'll see (for far more money) on Broadway.
It's no coincidence that Players' fall offering is always a musical -- "Beauty and the Beast," "The Wiz," even "Cabaret." It's a great way to hook students into the organization at the start of a new year. It taps into teenagers' enthusiasm and zest for singing, dancing, even set-building.
And it challenges the directors to challenge their charges in every way they can. A 52-year tradition of success and supremely high standards ensures that each musical offers something never before attempted on the Staples stage.
Which brings us to "Curtains."
In 2007, Players director David Roth and associate director Kerry Long took a group of actors to see that Broadway show. They were in the middle of doing "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." Rupert Holmes -- who won Tony Awards for the book and score -- had just spoken to the Staples students about the show, so the directors wanted to show them Holmes' latest project. Roth and Long became enamored with "Curtains," and vowed to do it when it became available.
It's not easy to find shows -- year after year -- with plenty of good roles that are also appropriate for high school actors (and audiences). But "Curtains" provided a perfect Players vehicle: a large ensemble cast, the opportunity to add a big chorus, great music and a very funny book.
However, there was a risk. Though written by John Kander and Fred Ebb -- the team behind "Chicago" and "Cabaret" -- "Curtains" is not a big name show. Filling the house is as important at Staples as it is on Broadway -- well, almost -- and Roth and Long knew that selling "Curtains" would not be easy.
Fortunately, the music is fun and catchy. "Curtains" follows the tradition of big, old-fashioned musicals. The directors hope word-of-mouth will help build audiences.
"Curtains" is a musical about a musical being tried out in Boston before (hopefully) reaching Broadway. The show-within-the-show is called "Robbin' Hood." A Western version of the Robin Hood, it's as terrible as it sounds.
The opening number of "Curtains" is actually the final number of "Robbin' Hood." At the end, the leading lady -- who the audience sees giving a cringe-worthy performance -- faints. It turns out she's dead, and the police suspect murder.
Lt. Frank Cioffi, who sequesters the cast at the theater , is an amateur actor and musical theater buff. While investigating the murder, he helps solve Robbin' Hood's problems: divorcing composers and lyricists, a zany British director, a controlling producer and her sleazy husband, and a smarmy critic, among others.
Sounds complicated? Not really. The show is "probably one of the funniest musicals people have never heard of," Long says. The music has a classic Kander and Ebb Broadway feel. Though written less than five years ago, it feels classic, not modern. The large cast is also a throwback to old Broadway, she adds.
Roth and Long are staging many scenes with more than 30 people at once. It's not easy for the directors to make it work -- and that's without all the dancing.
As usual, choreographer Joanne Kahn has risen to the challenge. She's the wizard behind so many Staples productions. Her dance numbers have inspired young audience members to go into musical theater -- so "Curtains" actually reaps the benefit of her previous work.
Selling a show like "Curtains" to the cast can be almost as difficult as selling tickets to it. Fortunately, Long says, most have already seen it, and are excited to be part of it. The first read-through elicited plenty of laughter -- exactly what the directors hoped for. If high school students reacted that way, Roth and Long knew audiences would too.
The dancing -- very physical, with lots of lifts -- also engaged the cast. The boys have even done push-ups before rehearsals, to build their strength.
So where does "Curtains" fit in with previous big, brash Players musicals?
"It's a really good time," Long says. "It's fluffy, we know -- it won't change anyone's life -- but it's funny and touching and, hopefully, a really enjoyable night out.
"It's not going to depress people, or make them think too hard. Maybe that's a selling point! It's pure enjoyment -- and it's been fun for everyone to work on a show like that."
The curtain rises tonight on "Curtains" at 7:30 p.m. Shows continue tomorrow, and next Friday and Saturday, at 7:30 p.m., and this Sunday at 2 p.m. For ticket information click on www.StaplesPlayers.com. Tickets will also be sold today and next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at Staples from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Call 203-341-1310 for more information.