Camarillo Skyway Playhouse is having a lot of fun these days. Its production of Curtains, a “backstage mystery musical comedy,” is filled with humor (sometimes silly, sometimes bawdy), lots of song-and-dance numbers and a host of colorful characters. Rick Steinberg directs a high-energy cast that has great chemistry in bringing this musical-behind-a-musical to life.
Curtains takes place behind the scenes of a faltering, Broadway-bound musical. The year is 1959. The show is Robbin’ Hood. And the leading lady is awful. And dead. Played with great comic timing by Priscilla Losey, the terrible diva is murdered onstage as she takes her final final bow. Enter Boston police detective and musical theater fan Frank Cioffi (William Carmichael) to suss out the killer and, with any luck, resuscitate Robbin’ Hood’s chances of getting on Broadway before the entire cast is offed. Cioffi quarantines everyone inside the theater until he can root out the murderer. Along the way he falls in love with Niki Harris (Olivia Heulitt), the adorable understudy, as the body count — and emotions — rise. But leave it to theater people to turn turmoil into a cue for high drama, comedy and plenty of musical numbers. After all, the show must go on.
With book and additional lyrics by Rupert Holmes, music and additional lyrics by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and original book and concept by Peter Stone, Curtains is a murder mystery that sings. The cast gives its all to every musical number. Some are funny send-ups of classic Broadway musicals like Oklahoma. (In Curtains, Kansas gets the nod.) Others are seductive like “Georgia Can’t Dance,” or bittersweet like “Coffee Shop Nights.” Choreography by Miriam Durrie-Kirsch underscores the emotion and meaning of each song, whether it’s a subtle (or not-so-subtle) parody, an old-fashioned showstopper or a tender love song.
Standouts include Aileen-Marie Scott as producer Carmen Bernstein. With her great, smoky voice, Scott belts out “It’s a Business” and delivers zingers like a bonafide Broadway diva. Olivia Heulitt is very funny as Niki, capturing the quirkiness of the character with aplomb. Dawn Notagiacomo is great fun as Bambi, a chorus girl who wants her moment in the spotlight. Sara Marie Calvey and David White are delightful as star-crossed lovers. Bill Sweeney plays the high-strung director with just the right amount of camp. Kyle Johnson portrays Robbin’ Hood’s leading man with equal measures of strut and melancholy. As Cioffi, William Carmichael captures the laid-back ease of a gumshoe who comes to life, not only when he finds the killer, but even more so when he finds his true love and true self. Speaking of whodunit, the resolution is sly and satisfying.
The rest of the cast is ebullient from beginning to end, which, in a musical that runs at almost three hours, is no easy feat. Behind the “behind the scenes” is a talented crew, including director and set/lighting/sound designer Steinberg and producers Losey and Dean Johnson, who is also a lighting designer and sound operator. Under the guidance of music director David Watkins, the cast makes every song unique. Costume designer Laura Comstock and prop designers Dona Pugh and Randy Pugh masterfully outfit a multitude of characters as diverse as a rhinestone cowboy, an old-school detective and singing mermaids.
A fun night out, Curtains is a great way to kill some time.
Curtains plays through Nov. 20 at Camarillo Skyway Playhouse, 330 Skyway Drive, Camarillo. For tickets and more information, call 388-5716 or visit www.skywayplayhouse.org.