by Matt Smith
“It’s an honor and a joy to be in show business… I feel that spotlight hit me and I’m gone.”
There’s no doubt many of us within the community share this above sentiment, a lyric from the hit 2007 Kander and Ebb-penned Curtains, which is most likely the reason why we came out in droves to attend 54 Sings Curtains, an abridged celebration of the show, reuniting select members of the original cast along with a slew of other famous faces and one very special guest at intimate supper club Feinstein’s/54 Below.
But while Curtains itself can stand alone as a standout Broadway musical, this specific evening, in terms of its presentation, is rather clunky and uneven, never gaining an established sense of flow or rhythm.
Repurposed as a radio play, performed on Radio W54B (get it? haha!), the show is performed with a heavily truncated rendition of the book, read by a cavalcade of actors from behind binders and music stands.
Sure, it’s understandable that in order to shorten the evening down to a 60-minute runtime, certain details may need to be cut or reworked but in the case of Curtains, wherein the original story is so vaccuum-packed with suspense, heightened by clues at every turn, reworking the details causes it to deflate and lose its “mojo,” while other details are so rushed or pushed aside that jokes fall flat and the audience ends up puzzled by the mystery, rather than engaged in it.
For example, Bambi (a bubbly Megan Sikora) continually pushes the Kansasland number, which, in the 2007 production, allows her to show off her kick-ass high-kicks, but here, with no stage to display her moves, there’s no explanation or proof behind why she lobbied for the number in the first place. Similarly, mentions of re-writing “In the Same Boat,” of which the musical sees three continuously revamped versions before culminating in a raucous 11-o’clock number, are here lost on the audience as a result of removing those first drafts. (They have no idea what they’re talking about nor what re-writes have been made until the final version is presented… sans buildup).
To be honest, it seems as if the concert should be tailored to those diehard fans, who really know the show well, who can catch the subtle changes and not be too confused with following the tweaked plot line to deter enjoyment from the evening as a whole.
Perhaps the evening itself can be reworked as well, to serve as a celebration of the musical, with selections from the score, with a less intense focus on the book elements, rather than cramming in rushed, underprepared dialogue just for the hell of it. Perhaps the dialogue could just simply be narration, to guide the mystery along.
Perhaps it could be given by Rupert Holmes himself, who seemingly “hosts” this version, but in actuality, gives a brief history of the musical (awkwardly admitting he didn’t actually contribute to the revised version presented) before sequestering himself toward the back of the house, not to return again.
But despite these misgivings, the evening is, in fact, saved by the “glue” that holds it all together: the score. One of the last of the incomparable razzle-dazzle duo, the selections truly radiate showbiz in its fullest form, even when pared down from a glimmering 60-piece orchestra to a soothing, soft jazz quartet.
The return of the original cast members is also a treat, namely the aforementioned Sikora, who lives in each moment, reveling in reliving her days in the show. She’s right at home boppin’ along to the bouncy tunes, and displaying more liveliness and characterization than anyone else! (Again, the result of being an OG cast member).
And God bless whomever chose the dastardly chauvinistic Michael Reidel to cameo as conniving critic Daryl Grady. (Former NYT columnist Charles Isherwood takes the reins at the later performance). Having accepted the fact that he’s probably the most hated man in the room — both within the show, and, quite frankly, in reality — Reidel, too, is livin’ it up, playing the ham to the fullest extent, and milking every reaction of disgusted contempt for all it’s worth. In fact, he’s so despicably delightful to watch, you’re actually disappointed at how underutilized he is a character… especially, again, considering how fleshed out Grady is in the full-length show. For future performances, might we suggest a narrator role, moving the action along and making the most of his cameo role.
So, on the whole, it’s a valiant effort, but ultimately paling in comparison to the bold and compelling original material. Still, at the same time, the players do what they can with what they have… after all, despite the hiccups, they know — as they defiantly sing amidst all the murder and mayhem — “the show must go on.” And thanks to a catalogue of luscious, memorable K&E tunes, at its heart, beating steadfast and strong, that’s exactly what it does.
Photos: Magda Katz
54 Sings Curtains was presented at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 W. 54th Street) on January 25th. For more information, visit www.54below.com.