Jason Manford as Frank Cioffi – photo Richard Davenport

Curtains is a musical drama and detective thriller all in one, written by Rupert Holmes and first produced in 2006. The music is by John Kander and Fred Ebb, the duo responsible for massive hits Cabaret and Chicago. Their familiar style is one of the joys of this busy show.

The set features its own proscenium arch and set of curtains and starts off looking at a Western musical (Robbin’ Hood) being staged in Boston. The star, Jessica Cranshaw (Nia Jermin) can neither sing, dance or act, and at the end of the show she collapses as the curtain falls.

The show gets awful reviews, and indeed theatre critics get quite a lot of stick from this script. Dreadfully unfair.

Later Carmen Berstein (Rebecca Lock), show backer Oscar Shapiro (Martin Callaghan) discuss how to rescue the show with songwriters Aaron Fox (Ore Oduba) and Georgia Hendricks (Carley Stenson) and the pithy British director Christopher Belling (Samuel Holmes). Then they get the call that Jessica is dead. Along comes detective Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Jason Manford) to investigate the murder, obliging all the cast to stay in the theatre until he solves the crime. Cioffi turns out to be a fan of the show, and amateur dramatics star himself. For the rest of the show he turns his attention more to reworking the failing show than apparently to solving the murder, while accidentally falling in love along the way.

There are many more twists and turns to come, and several delightfully described characters, including the ambitious Bambi, daughter of producer Carmen who constantly mocks her daughter’s talent. Bambi is Emma Caffrey, an astonishingly flexible and capable dancer and singer.

Before seeing the show I was skeptical about the performing ability of a well known TV comedian leading a stage musical, but I have to admit that Jason Manford is actually very good. He can sing, he can dance, he maintains a perfect Boston accent throughout and is an engaging stage presence. It is no mean task to take this complicated character (a US cop with soft spot for musicals) and make it work, and work well but he does. He is well supported by a skilled cast. Carley Stenson brings great singing skill and acting pathos to the role of Georgia Hendricks, and Rebecca Lock belts out showstopper tunes while maintaining an apparently cynical exterior. This musical is set in 1959 America, so gender roles are still following the tramlines of tradition. Yet much of the action is led by several strong women, including understudy Niki Harris (Leah Barbara West) who somehow manages to fall for Cioffi over the long night of lockdown. Another memorable performance. Many other cast members have their moment in the spotlight, and all show considerable dance and singing skills. Even the critic, Daryl Grady (Adam Rhys-Charles) seems quite unexpectedly talented.

This happy show is perfect for an enjoyable evening at the theatre. It has a few surprises and unexpected twists but everything is drawn happily together at the close, and the audience were on their feet before the curtaincalls had started. A clever show with lots of humour, plenty of action, some great tunes,  and a first rate cast.

© Julian Swainson 2020


Curtains plays at Norwich Theatre Royal until Sat 15 Feb. Go to norwich theatre.org or call 01603 630000 to book