2010-05-20 / Schools

Musical whodunit ‘Curtains’ a winner at TOHS

Play review
By Cary Ginell soundthink@aol.com

“Curtains,” the Kander and Ebb comedy whodunit, is nearing the end of a two-week run at Thousand Oaks High School.

Performed by the students of the school’s theater department, the 2006 show is a throwback to pre-“Oklahoma” days, when many Broadway musicals featured a show within a show, broad comedy and a lighthearted score.

The TOHS production works quite well, thanks to a talented cast and able direction from Joe Donia.

The show’s original writer was Peter Stone, a screenwriter who became best known for his work on such movies as “Charade” and “Arabesque.” Like “Charade,” “Curtains” is a murder mystery with comedy overtones, but Stone died in 2003, before his book was completed.

The multitalented songwriter/ playwright Rupert Holmes stepped in to finish the script for the show, which would have music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. But before it could get to the tryout stage, Ebb died as well, and Holmes had to provide additional lyrics. The show had a successful run on Broadway, earning eight Tony nominations and a Best Actor award for star David Hyde Pierce.

The story concerns a westernthemed musical version of Robin Hood that is being staged by a company in Boston in 1959. Its untalented star, Jessica Cranshaw (Caylen McDonald), is murdered, and detective Frank Cioffi(Emilio Merino) steps in to try and solve the crime. In the process, he falls in love with winsome understudy Niki Harris (Brooke Bowers) and exposes the killer, but not before having to sequester the entire cast and crew in the theater, since all were under suspicion.

As the central character, Merino needs to dominate the musical, which is difficult since he is surrounded by colorful and loony characters. Furthermore, the entire cast is onstage for much of the time, but Merino doesn’t get lost and balances his character’s earnestness to find the murderer with an almost fanatical love for the theater and his growing affection for Niki. Bowers is excellent as Niki, but it’s a shame she doesn’t get enough exposure for her lovely singing voice, which she displayed in the recent TOHS Talent Show.

Ryan Brodsky is fabulous as the flamboyantly fussy director Christopher Belling, throwing hilarious asides this way and that without upstaging any of the other players. Natasha Buran is perfectly cast as the brassy, hard-asnails producer Carmen Bernstein and is showcased in bravura performances of “Show People” and “It’s a Business.” One can see a future as Mama Rose in “Gypsy” for Buran. She’d be a smash.

Kate Peltola plays Carmen’s ditzy daughter Bambi and shows off some athletic dance moves in her specialty number, “Kansasland.” Her partner in that song is the show-within-a-show’s choreographer Bobby Pepper, played by the lean and lanky Ben Brooks.

A secondary love story concerns the songwriting team of lyricist Georgia Hendricks (Shelby Jones) and composer Aaron Fox (Austin DeBeikes). Once married, now the two are having difficulty working as a team, and Georgia is convinced to take over the leading role in the show. DeBeikes has one of the best musical moments in the show with his solo on the wonderful “I Miss the Music,” while Jones is likable as Georgia on her showcase number “Thinking of Him.”

Other featured roles include Randy Figueroa as the capable stage manager Johnny, Andy Walker as frazzled co-producer Oscar, Nick Waite as Carmen’s slimy and manipulative husband Sidney, and Kevin Morrow as the acerbic Boston Globe critic Daryl Grady.

Musical direction was handled by Gary Fritzen, who led the student orchestra. The crisp choreography was designed by Lynn Jacobellis, which especially shines on the showstopping Act I closer “Thataway” and Merino and Bowers’ quirky dance number “A Tough Act to Follow,” a title that more than sums up this entertaining production.

“Curtains” plays through Sat., May 22 at the Thousand Oaks High School performing arts center, 2323 Moorpark Road. Showtime is 7:30. Tickets are $10.

To see musical highlights of the show, visit www.toacorn.com.

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