CLUED IN Saunders, Krawiecki, Cacciavillani, and Pavao. [Photo by Logan Bruneau]
Funny thing — and not in the good way — about a musical comedy that wants to be both an homage and a send-up. A perfect example of such imperfection is Curtains, which is getting the good ol' college try at Providence College (through April 21).
The genre it's sending up is the old-fashioned, typically British murder mystery, in which the inspector rounds up all the suspects and slowly ferrets out the culprit. Here it's 1959 Boston, with the only point of the date being to apply a patina of age appropriate to that style of mystery play.
The book is by Rupert Holmes, based on a concept by Peter Stone, with lyrics by Fred Ebb and music by John Kander. Stone died leaving an unfinished manuscript; Holmes completed it for a premiere three years later in 2006. (Ebb also died before his music was finished, so Holmes, with Kander, had to pitch in again. Unfortunately, neither death provided Holmes with inspiration to make the murders here more plausible.)
The PC production, directed by Jimmy Calitri, underscores the weaknesses of a poor script by presenting some of the lame humor more broadly than necessary or advisable. For example, a script that asks an actor to spout a line like "Is there no limit to my unbridled brilliance?!," as Curtains does with play-within-a-play director Christopher Belling (Ben Williams), needs an understated spouting rather than one trying to be funny, since the egotism already accomplishes the humor.
Things kick off with the Boston tryout of a new musical done as a Western, Robbin' Hood, as the ensemble belts out a hokey signature song, "Wide Open Spaces." But the untalented star (Erin Fusco) is so drunk that she collapses after her curtain call. Critics savage the show, so the star has to be replaced. (This provides opportunity for a song, "What Kind of Man," expressing disgust at the sort of foul creature who would become a theater critic, going on to disparage his mommy for his careless upbringing. Sniff.)
Deciding on the replacement falls to tough cookie Carmen (Katrina Pavao) along with her shiny-suited co-producer husband, Sidney (Jeff Desisto). (Desisto shows how to keep broad humor on a leash, limiting it to arrogance, a confident walk, and a low-class accent.) They decide that the best bet for a new lead would be the female half of their songwriting duo, divorced but still working with her ex. Georgia (Stacie Krawiecki) gulps but accepts, having beautifully sung the opening number and knowing the show inside out. Another song, "Thinking of Him," shows us that she is uncertain about breaking up with Aaron (Patrick Mark Saunders).
Things come alive when a police homicide detective, Lt. Frank Cioffi (Daniel Caplin), shows up to inform everybody that the star of the show was murdered. The theater exits are all guarded, and no one will be allowed to leave until the killer is found. Actually, he's less interested in solving a crime then he is delighted in being backstage among all these theater people. He's a fan and downright giddy about it, and is particularly interested in one of the actors, Niki Harris (Aubrey Dion), not because she is a suspect but because he especially liked her in the show. She sympathizes with his lonely dedication to his job, after he sings "Coffee Shop Nights," and he becomes even more enchanted. Romance softens the blow of any further, inevitable, killing.