Curtains, St Hilda’s recent production at Union House Theatre is set in 1959 Boston and follows the murder of Jessica Cranshaw (Bebe Berryman). In this musical within a musical, Cranshaw is the supremely untalented leading lady of Robbin Hood of the Old West,a fictional cowboy musical, and whose death plays out as a parody of a typical ‘whodunit’. Detective Lt. Frank Cioffi (Eamonn Shorter), is employed to investigate the case, but appears more excited by fixing the dreadful show Robbin Hood of the Old West and wooing Nicki Harris (Isabella Garzolini). Despite this, these preoccupations lead him to solving the mystery, but not until three more casualties have fallen.
Under the direction of Rose Kirkham and Alex Gorbatov, the band set a clear frame for the action on stage, with the opening ‘Overture’ particularly lifting expectations but outshining the performance that followed. The opening number ‘Wide Open Spaces’ lacked commitment and confidence and caused the show to lose the energy of its opening and steadily fatigue. While the confusion around accents could be excused in the opening scene as most were attempting to portray New Yorkers living in Boston doing Kansas City accents, as the show went on, this jumble did not recover. Choreographers Tescha Nicholls and Monica Gregg effectively tailored the dances to the capabilities of the ensemble however some musical numbers were much better rehearsed than others. The male ensemble chair dance in ‘Thataway!’ was a surprisingly energetic and thoroughly enjoyable highlight.
Excusing the accents, singing and harmonization was well executed. ‘Thinking of Him / I Miss the Music (Reprise)’, a duet between Aaron Fox (Thomas Keiller) and Georgia Hendricks (Lucy Burbury) was a stand-out number, creating between the performers themselves and with the audience, an engaging and palpable connection.
Gini Gleeson as Carmen Bernstein should also be commended for her bold performance. Perhaps aided by the resolute nature of her character, she commanded attention. Her earnest delivery of her lines made them all the more hilarious.
Lighting, sets and costumes were well-considered, manageable and effective. Sound through the personal mics was unfortunately an issue on the night I attended and dialogue between mic-ed and non-mic-ed performers sometimes jarred, making me wonder if reserving mics for musical numbers only may have been better.
St Hilda’s production of Curtains proved to be an enjoyable night out and the production team is to be commended on coordinating such a large ensemble. Perhaps cutting the show down, simplifying accents or better fitting the production with the strengths of its cast could have prevented it from fatiguing. Despite this, those moments that were connected and engaging suggest that the show and this production had greater potential than was showcased on opening night.
St Hilda’s production of Curtains: The Musical ran from the 24th-25th of August at the Union House Theatre.