‘Curtains’ rising at Surfside Playhouse … and fun will ensue

Although it’s 12 years old, the comedy “Curtains” will likely be new for many audiences when it opens Friday at Surfside Playhouse.

Written by John Kander and Fred Ebb, the team that brought you “Chicago” and “Cabaret,” “Curtains” brims full with theater jokes and double-take humor that begs for deadpan delivery and impeccable timing designed to delight.

Its libretto was by Peter Stone. But when Stone died in 2003, he left the libretto unfinished. So producers turned to Rupert Holmes (“The Mystery of Edwin Drood”) to finish the libretto and write more lyrics with Kander. Ironically, “Curtains” would also mark the final collaboration for Kander and Ebb, who died in 2004.

After so many final bows of those connected with the production (the show’s orchestrator, Michael Gibson, died in 2005), it finally opened on Broadway in 2007. (It was choreographed by Rob Ashford, whose parents live in Melbourne Village.)

“Curtains” has great fun with its play-within-a-play conceit. It is set both onstage and backstage in 1959 Boston at an out-of-town Broadway tryout for “Robbin’ Hood of the Old West.” When the show’s star, Jessica Cranshaw, is murdered after the curtain call, Boston police detective Frank Cioffi comes in. An avid fan of stage musicals, Cioffi sets out to not only solve Cranshaw’s murder, but also solve the mystery of what is murdering the lousy production of “Robbin’ Hood of the Old West.”

The show was nominated for eight Tonys and 10 Drama Desk Awards. David Hyde Pierce received a Tony for his witty turn as Cioffi. And, it won two Drama Desk Awards – outstanding book of a musical and outstanding featured actress in a musical, Debra Monk.

However, reviews were mixed, making it not a first choice of community theaters. And that’s too bad, because the book and lyrics are very funny. The show also offers terrific opportunities for performers to dig into over-the-top, deliciously droll roles.

“There’s some great music and great bits,” said Surfside director Bryan Bergeron. “The production numbers are fun. And our cast of 35 has great vocalists. Our full sound will knock your socks off in the big numbers.”

One of the funniest bits, he says, is that no one is especially sad that Jessica Cranshaw gets bumped off shortly after the show begins. Cranshaw is portrayed by Kim Dickman, a well-known performer in Brevard community theater. Dickman also serves as the production’s music director. She recently was music director for Stephen Sondheim’s “Putting It Together,” which ran in August at Melbourne Civic Theatre.

Because Dickman’s so sought-after and beloved in area theater, it becomes a gag that her character meets an untimely demise.

“Nobody is sad she’s gone because she’s really bad,” Bergeron said.

Indeed, as the song “The Woman’s Dead” begins:

“Jessica Cranshaw will never be better than she was this evening.”

“But she was horrible.”

“I know. But she’ll never be better. She’s dead … In terms of future performances, Jessica Cranshaw now has a conflict.”

“… Shall we observe a minute of silence to match the audience’s response to Jessica’s first number?”

And the song goes on, loaded with inside theater jokes.

“The funniest part is the director, Belling, played by Anthony Mowad,” Bergeron said. “He’s got one zinger after another.”

Cioffi, who is infatuated with musical theater, ends up taking over the role of director and gets involved with both onstage and offstage drama, which so frequently happens in theater settings.

Cioffi is being played by Rob Kenna, an Australian transplant who keeps very busy in the area theater scene.

Although he has a decided Australian accent, he’s worked hard to recreate a Boston accent, considered one of the hardest American accents to recreate.

To help him get the right sound, Kenna turned to another area actor, Steve Budkiewicz, who was born and raised in Boston. Kenna would call Budkiewicz and ask him to recite some lines into the phone to be recorded.

“Every show I do is an accent of some type because I’m Australian,” Kenna said, laughing. “When you say Cranshaw you say ‘Cransharwww. And there’s this one little line I say … ‘You got Aaron to show ya his cahds. And Carmen is Cahmann.”

“Oh, he’s great,” Bergeron said. “You wouldn’t know he’s not from Boston.”

“He’s a pro,” Budkiewicz said.

But there’s more than the accent in “Curtains” that delights Kenna. It’s the shenanigans, he said.

“This is silliness and laughter,” he said. “It’s a classic old time murder mystery musical, like an ode to that time. It’s good, rollicking fun. Silly, light-hearted. It’s a romp, that’s what it is.”

And there are 10 big production numbers with all those costumes and wigs galore.

The scenery, designed by Bergeron and his team, comprises six set changes. Costume designer Suzanne Childers has created 120 costumes. Barbara Rybacki has constructed a huge assortment of wigs.

“There are some lovely songs and show-biz pizzazz,” Bergeron said. “And audiences will get invested in the relationship between Georgia Hendricks and Aaron Fox, a separated couple who are songwriting partners. They have written the show and they both still love each other.”

Hendricks, played by Jennifer Jesseman, takes on the role of the leading lady, causing her jealous ex, played by Chris Tsocanos, to worry about her.

Their song, “Thinking of Him,” is one of the highlights. Other music standouts include “What Kind of Man,” a witty song in which the cast derides critics who trash their show, then heaps praises upon the one who loves it.

“It’s a funny, funny song,” Bergeron said. “And the show within the show is a cheesy, campy production. Audiences definitely will have fun at ‘Curtains.’”

“Curtains” opens Friday (Nov. 8) and run through Nov. 24 at Surfside Players, 301 Ramp Road, (5th Street South), Cocoa Beach. Tickets are $25 general, $22 seniors, students and military and $10 children 12 years and younger. A $1.75 ticketing fee will be assessed for each ticket. Call 321-783-3127 or visit SurfsidePlayers.com.

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