Sunday, June 29, 2008

The final curtain

Sure, I love plays but let's face it, when you think of Broadway, what's the first word that comes to mind: musicals, of course! So today is kind of sad because Curtains, a tremendously entertaining backstage murder mystery, and the very first musical I ever saw on Broadway, is closing after 537 performances at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.

I've written before about how this last work from the legendary team of John Kander and the late Fred Ebb, of Chicago and Cabaret fame, sang and danced its way into my heart on Friday, April 13, 2007.

It was a very lucky day and evening for me - seeing Curtains that night turned out to be the perfect ending to a wonderful, leisurely stroll around Manhattan. I made a big rectangle - I started out at Macy's on 34th Street, walked up to the Museum of Natural History, crossed Central Park, then walked down Fifth Avenue and stopped at Rockefeller Center before making my way to Times Square. Although I love cities, and I've lived in a couple of great ones, New York always intimidated me. But by the end of that day, I felt incredibly comfortable and at ease. You could say that was the day I fell in love with New York City.

My journey to Curtains began four months earlier, when I asked my new friend and soon-to-be brother, Steve on Broadway, which musical I should see during my trip to New York City the following spring. I mentioned some shows I'd read about, but Steve suggested one that I'd never heard of, a musical that he'd seen in Los Angeles in 2006. He described Curtains as "a good old-fashioned musical comedy of the first order," and "everything a Broadway musical should be." He was Steve on Broadway, after all, so I figured he should know.

Since then, I've had a chance to see most of the other musicals that I mentioned to Steve, and while I enjoyed them to varying degrees, Curtains absolutely was the perfect choice for my first musical on Broadway. It was everything I expected a Broadway musical would be - an entertaining story (by Rupert Holmes and the late Peter Stone), terrific choreography (by Rob Ashford), catchy songs (by Holmes, Kander and Ebb), and a wonderful cast that created truly memorable characters. After an evening like that, how could you not fall in love with the Great White Way?

My seat was in the center orchestra, second row, and right from the overture, it was thrilling. I had no idea the conductor would rise up from the orchestra pit at the beginning! I was afraid I'd be too close, but the view was perfect. I was smiling from the first strains of the overture until the final and hilarous last scene - David Hyde Pierce made an entrance that was so funny and inspired, I couldn't remember the last time I laughed so hard. (And I was sitting so close, I could see the sweat on his face!)

And the cast, wow - they were all wonderful. David Hyde Pierce brought such charm and wit to the role 0f 1950s-era Boston Police detective Frank Cioffi. He creates a very likable, sympathetic character. When he's called to the Colonial Theatre to investigate a murder, well the musical theatre fan inside him can barely conceal his excitement. I loved his song-and-dance routein with the ingenue Niki, played so sweetly by Jill Paice, in "A Tough Act to Follow." They looked just like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers! I was so happy when he won the Tony award as Best Actor in a Musical.

And Debra Monk was hilarious as the brash, tough-as-nails Carmen Bernstein, producer of the show-within-a-show. I still crack up when I listen to her on the cast recording singing "It's a Business." I loved watching Noah Racey dance as choreographer and leading man Bobby Pepper. I loved Karen Ziemba and Jason Danieley as the ex-spouses and ex-songwriting team Georgia Hendricks and Aaron Fox, who haven't quite gotten over each other. Really, I could go on and on. I loved the big ensemble numbers, like "Show People," and the tender "Coffee Shop Nights" and "I Miss the Music."

One thing I've learned over the past 18 months is that comedy is hard, and musical comedy is even harder. But Curtains pulled it off with such great style and ease. I think part of it was the awesome cast and part of it was the songs and part of it was simply telling a story really well. Whereas Young Frankenstein, for example, just felt kind of flat and tinny to me, with characters who never totally came alive, (well, with the exception of the monster, I guess) Curtains felt rich and vibrant, with engaging, outsized characters. It was just fun - pure enjoyment from start to finish.

I was a little startled at the end, when David Hyde Pierce broke the fourth wall, stepping out of character to ask for donations to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. It was the first time I'd seen a performer do that. Being David Hyde Pierce, of course he did it in a way that was heartfelt, but also funny and endearing. Watching nearly everyone drop something in the buckets on the way out gave me a sense of the community that exists on Broadway - among actors and between actors and the audience.

At the stage door, everyone in the cast - David Hyde Pierce, Debra Monk, Karen Ziemba, Jason Danieley, Noah Racey, Jill Paice, Edward Hibbert, Megan Sikora, John Bolton, Ernie Sabella, Michael Martin, Michael McCormick and David Loud, among others, - walked down the line of fans, signing autographs, chatting, posing for pictures. I really loved all of them. If you want to get a great sense of the show, pick up the cast recording - it's one of my favorites.

Somehow, I got it into my head that I should tell each and every cast member that it was my first Broadway musical. To a person, they were incredibly gracious and excited for me, and so thrilled that I'd chosen to see their show. I can't say enough about them. They're a talented, hard-working group of actors whose names are largely unknown to the non-theatergoing public, but as Lt. Frank Cioffi says, they're all heroes to me. It was an honor and a privilege to see them on stage.

And meeting David Hyde Pierce was absolutely the best. When I told him that Curtains was my first musical and the night before, I'd seen my first play, he was genuinely interested, asking me what I saw and how I liked it. He posed for a picture, and then, a few months after that, Steve, my dear friend, brother and theatre guide, got me a souvenir book signed by the entire cast.

I wish Curtains had gotten a bigger audience, stayed around for awhile longer. It's sad that so many out-of-town visitors to Broadway passed up a chance to see a terrific show. But I know it'll have a great life on tour and in community productions. Hopefully, I'll get to see it performed somewhere else someday. But nothing will ever replace the thrill of seeing Curtains on Broadway, with its original cast. Here, some of the cast members reminisce about their favorite moments with the show.

I hope I can see David Hyde Pierce next spring, when he returns to Broadway in the play Accent on Youth. And I'll be looking forward to seeing the rest of the Curtains cast on stage again. They definitely made a fan. The Hirschfeld's next tenant will be the musical version of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. Let me tell you, Curtains will be a tough act to follow.


Mary said...

I love your blog. So thorough and entertaining!

Esther said...

Thanks! I love your blog, too - great pictures and design tips. Hopefully someday I'll have a home of my own and I'll hire you!