From the creative minds of Kander and Ebb comes the Tony award winning Curtains. This whimsical and charming production made its Broadway debut in 2007. Now in the year 2017, The Barn Playhouse, owned and operated by The Dramateurs Inc., has effortlessly adapted this “musical comedy whodunit” to suit their stage.
Nestled in the middle of a quiet residential area, The Barn Playhouse is both rustic and charming in its outward appearance. Since 1934, The Barn has made it a mission to “stimulate greater interest in dramatic art and literature in Norristown and its vicinity through educational programs.”
Inside the theater is a cast whose chemistry and personalities radiate that same charming feeling, with a quirky, playful dynamic that allows them to perfect their own roles and add to the roles of their cast mates.
The musical is set in Boston during the winter of 1959 and follows a down-on-it’s luck theater company. The company is amid their pre-Broadway run of Robbin’ Hood in the Old West, a production that is dismal at best. The show’s star is a talentless diva who is loathed by cast and crew alike. When she is murdered on stage during opening night, Boston police Lieutenant (and private musical buff) Frank Cioffi steps in to solve the mystery, save the play, and get the girl.
While the play itself follows a format that is not groundbreakingly unique, the cast at The Barn Playhouse demonstrates a strong understanding of their respective character’s personalities, quirks, and emotions. Although Curtains is rather predictable, its nonetheless an enjoyable production.
The show opens with three back to back catchy, classically styled Broadway numbers. “Wide Open Spaces,” a country ensemble, sets the tone of the musical within the musical while introducing us to the apathetic and hilarious diva, Jessica Crenshaw (played by Elizabeth Wheeler). Though the actress’ time on stage is short, her performance immediately gets the audience laughing.
“Thinking of Him,” an emotional and somber ballad, introduces us to one of the show’s two main romantic couplings. Two ex-lovers and songwriting partners come together again to write the score for their otherwise dud of a show, though they struggle to find the right words to express how they both really feel.
It’s here the audience gets their first taste of the multi-talented Georgia Hendricks, who actress Nina Harper brings to life with her silvery voice and clear understanding of the character’s heartache that silently drives her plot along.
Throughout the first act we’re introduced to other key characters like Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (played by Thom Harmon), Niki Harris (Kit Niesen), and Carmen Bernstein (Sue Murphy).
The relationship that flourishes between Broadway loving Lieutenant Cioffi and budding starlet Niki offers all the cuteness and quirks that makes the dynamic between the two the show’s main source of romantic comedy, in contrast to the relatable longing of Georgia and ex-husband Aaron. Harmon’s portrayal of Cioffi comes off as goofy and likeable, which balances out his character’s sense of justice and duty. While Niesen’s character initially comes across as a scheming, mean girl type, we learn that she is just as goofy and light hearted as her fellow lead, making the two happy-go-lucky show people a well-suited match.
It’s hard to miss Sue Murphy’s powerhouse vocals in her role as Carmen Bernstein, a battle-weary producer. Caught in the midst of an unhappy marriage and struggling to navigate a strained relationship with daughter, Bambi (Virginia Harmon), a good deal of the show’s many one-liners go to her, which Murphy delivers effortlessly.
Possibly the best number in the show is a poignant solo ballad, “I Miss the Music,” performed by Aaron Fox (Anthony Marsala), the other half of the show’s ex-spouse songwriting duo.
Here the otherwise understated role of Aaron is given the depth needed to really invest oneself in the relationship with Georgia. Marsala’s voice is smooth and orotund in delivery of a song with layered meaning. This number reflects both the heartache felt by the characters and the heartache felt by John Kander after the loss of his own writing partner, Fred Ebb.
Overall, The Dramateurs of the Barn Playhouse put on a wonderful rendition of Curtains. Through excellent acting and singing skills of this group, an otherwise predictable story is given a breath of fresh air that allows you to invest yourself in the lives of the people they portray.
Curtains is running through Saturday, September 9 at the Barn Playhouse in Jeffersonville.
*Photos Courtesy of Gabrielle Cherelli