CURTAINS: Quirky, Musical Comedy Whodunit at HPP

by Jack Shaw

Sometimes you have to go for the fun of it. I went to the preview of CURTAINS. Ironic, perhaps, in that the show was in the “preview” stage as well. Haddonfield Plays and Players are ready to open. The performance was lively and energetic. I enjoyed the show tremendously—just for the fun of it.

Theatre is often deep and meaningful, but it can also delight us with its creativity and thereby entertain us. And, so it went for Haddonfield Plays and Players and its production of CURTAINS. It was great fun! Outstanding players, interesting choreography, some great upbeat songs, and one beautifully sung sad one, and the set…well try turning a black box theatre into a proscenium stage, but HPP managed quite well.

Not only do you have to turn back the “curtains,” you have to turn back time to 1959 and a professional musical in Boston trying to make it to Broadway. Unfortunately, a spoiled diva who can’t act, sing or dance, is killed. It’s not sad that she’s dead, it’s sad that the show isn’t going anywhere until police Lieutenant Frank Cioffi finds Jessica Cranshaw’s murderer. It’s that kind of play.

“Jessica” was nicely played (however briefly) by Dana Balsamo, a real singer, dancer, choreographer. She is a wonderful performer; in fact, I’d like to see more of her. She had all the right moves, but, at first glance, she seemed a bit young and tiny—at least to these old eyes for the role. My definition of an “aging film diva” is at least the 30s to 50s.

Later, upon seeing that “Georgia,” aptly played by Sara Viniar, would replace Balsamo’s “Jessica” in the show, the casting made more sense, fitting both characters’ petite size and youthful look. In other productions, “Georgia,” who is one-half of the songwriting team, and “Jessica” are often played by the same woman.

Not to worry, the show must go on.

CURTAINS is a fluff musical with a difference. It is also a murder mystery reminiscent of the days when backstage murders were the rage—the 50s, a melodrama and a “campy” portrayal of actors’ lives on stage. The play borders on black comedy, while giving us beautiful music and terrific choreography.

Ironically, the original Broadway production of CURTAINS had its problems, receiving mixed reviews; however, David Hyde Pierce became an instant Broadway star for his portrayal of the musical-loving, sappy police lieutenant. CURTAINS was nominated for several Tony Awards, but received only the one. The New York reviews pointed out that “the choreography by Rob Ashford was unnoticeable, the scenery by Anna Louizos uninterestingly ugly, while William Ivey Long unwisely saved his best and funniest costumes for the curtain calls.”

While I can’t vouch for authenticity of the vintage, the clothing and costumes in the HPP production of CURTAINS were colorful and consistent, and they worked fine.

Director Bryan Pitt was responsible for this highly energized cast.

Dana Balsamo, in her other role as choreographer, made the dancing refreshing and dynamic. Balsamo managed a lot of variety with an often-crowded stage. “Bambi”’s special dance seemed to be a little off center, being more of a ballet/gymnast event, than a typical dance number in the show.

Perhaps the unique dance number was planned on purpose to separate her from the current crowd, and let us see her special showcase for her mother. “Bambi” (Katherine Bigolow) was a stand-out performer all the same—acting, singing and dancing.

There were other standout performances: Tami Gordon Brody was wonderful as Bambi’s mother, Carmen Bernstein, the show’s producer. Steven Ciapanna, as the great director, “Christopher Belling,” was a hoot. Kaitlyn Delengowski was mesmerizing as she played “Niki Harris,” the innocent and sweet understudy that did not replace the nasty and “untalented” diva. Bobby Walker did an excellent job as the police lieutenant. While I can imagine David Hyde Pierce running wild with the role as reported, Walker’s consistency with the role also made the character most amusing. Dialogue in this show is very witty without the usual “groaners,” moving us quickly and creatively to the each number.

Connor Twigg was completely his character, “Bobby Pepper.” Pat DeFusco owned “Sidney Bernstein” for the short time he was onstage. And, I liked Buddy Deal as “Aaron Fox.” He moved the audience with his genuine likability. He sang that memorable sad song I mentioned earlier.

Kudos to the ensemble, the lights and the sound–and anyone else associated with this fun experience.

Haddonfield Plays and Players’ CURTAINS–this “fluff” quirky musical–entertained us well.

Music by John Cander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Additional lyrics by Kander and Holmes
Book by Rupert Holmes
May 1-17, 2014
Fri/Sat 8pm; Sun 2pm
Haddonfield Plays and Players
957 East Atlantic Avenue at Crows Woods
Haddonfield, NJ 08033


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