Curtains, and not the ones draping windows, is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as the END; especially DEATH. And that’s the exact premise of this murder musical comedy currently playing at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson.
The plot revolves around the sudden death of the leading lady, Jessica Cranshaw, during the out-of-town tryout for a new musical Robin Hood. When star struck Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Steve McCoy) appears at the theater to investigate the actors, he says reverently, “It’s an honor to stand on the same stage as all of you.”
He then proceeds to quarantine the entire company—now all potential suspects—and the fun ensues.
It seems Coiffi, a community theater actor, is so enamored with being in the presence of real actors that he gets sidetracked from the case and slips into directorial notes with such comments as, “Will you forget about murders for a second?”
The play delivers plenty of red herrings to sift through before eventually solving the crime, or rather crimes, beginning with co-producer Sidney Bernstein, played with just the right pompous air by Lon Shomer, swinging at the end of a rope at the close of Act I.
David Hyde Pierce played the leading role of Coiffi in the original Broadway production, but move over Mr. Pierce, there’s a new lieutenant in town with Steve McCoy taking on this dynamic role. McCoy sings, dances and acts his way to solving the crime, and he is a delight every step of the way.
In the short-lived leading lady role of Cranshaw, Meg Bush delivers a campy performance in the opening number “Wide Open Spaces.” She prances in the opposite direction of the chorus and is more intent on blowing feathers from her boa off her face than concentrating on the dance routine. Cranshaw haughtily utters, “I don’t know what I’m doing in this show,” and neither do we.
Bush’s antics end much too soon when her character is killed off, but as luck would have it, the actress is resurrected later in the role of Arlene Barruca.
The cast includes Mary Ellin Kurtz as co-producer Carmen Bernstein. Kurtz dazzles with her bigger than life performance and powerhouse voice reminiscent of Ethel Merman as she scoffs at theater reviewers for putting down her show in “What Kind of Man?” She openly criticizes her daughter Elaine (Nicole Bianco), a dancer in the show, so the cast won’t think she is practicing nepotism.
It seems Elaine has taken up the name Bambi because you know what happened to Bambi’s mother. That says it all about their mother-daughter relationship. In the number “Kansasland,” Bianco’s adept acrobatics with dance partner Bobby Pepper (Dylan Robert Poulos) is a showstopper.
Enter the show’s director, Christopher Belling played to the hilt with droll one-liners, peppered with a swish, by Matt Senese. In one bit, when Bambi bubbles, “I had an idea.” Belling retorts, “How long we’ve been waiting for that day?”
He announces his plan to recast the leading lady role not with the understudy, Nikki Harris (Jenna Kavaler), but instead with Georgia (Tracylynn Conner) who is part of the show’s songwriting team with her former husband Aaron (James Schultz). The gorgeous soaring voices of Conner and Schultz crescendo in “Thinking of Him/I Miss the Music” and we hope for the pair to reconcile.
Kavaler is the epitome of an ingenue with her high-pitched voice as she twirls around the stage. It is evident she’s captured the heart of Lieutenant Coiffi when they team up on the sweet and sentimental duet “A Tough Act to Follow,” which ends in a kiss.
The orchestra under the direction of Jeffrey Hoffman fills this cavernous theater with high energy as they navigate each tune. Hoffman even acts in the show when he takes on the role of Sasha.
Chakira Dohertyn’s costumes are a colorful compliment to Whitney Stone’s lively, even ethereal choreography, particularly in “A Tough Act to Follow.” Scenic design by Randall Parsons and lighting design by Robert W. Henderson, Jr. add just the right mood to each scene.
Director, Jeff Sanzel, has assembled a frothy early summer evening romp that runs at Theatre Three through June 23.
There is one interesting side note to the making of this original musical centered on a death at a theater. Kander and Ebb were well on their way to composing Curtains when Peter Stone, who wrote the book, died April 2003. Then Ebb suddenly passed away on September 11, 2004. Even the show’s orchestrator Michael Gibson died.
“The show must go on” is a theme echoed throughout this musical, and by Kander who valiantly went on to complete his project with the help of librettist Rupert Holmes. Curtains received its July 2006 world premiere in Los Angeles before heading to Broadway where it ran from March 2007 until June 2008. The show received eight Tony Award nominations and won a Tony for Leading Actor in a Musical to David Hyde Pierce as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi.
Theatre Three is located at 412 Main Street in Port Jefferson. Call 631-928-9100 or visit theatrethree.com for tickets and schedules.