Friday, March 02, 2007

An Inspector Calls: "...5, 6, 7, 8!"

"Curtains" at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, March 3, 2007

How many shows can Kander and Ebb reference at one time? At a minimum, 3 - but I'm sure that number is much larger than what I could recognize in this, their last joint and particularly frothy production.

The plot is well-traveled ground covering backstage shows and movies from "42nd Street" and "Bandwagon" deliciously, if not over-embroidered with time-worn classics like "An Inspector Calls," "Oklahoma!," and "Ten Little Indians" plus any number of other shows that have ever been produced onstage.

Plot summary: Seasoned producers are in Boston with a tryout of a western version of Robin Hood, starring a faded movie star who can neither sing, dance or act. When she's murdered opening night, a detective shows up and holds the entire cast in the theatre until he can solve the crime. BTW, he's got a bit of his own theatre-bug from doing community shows and becomes as eager to fix the show as he is to solve the murder. Multiple murders follow as the show is restaged, with fingers pointed at about everyone in the company. Toss in a couple of love triangles, stir well with puns and penis jokes and it's an evening of fun and frivolity.

I should add, there was one song in particular that struck a touching moment for me. Aaron (Jason Daniely), the composer and Georgia (Karen Ziemba), the lyricist are recently divorced. Still with the production, Aaron confesses that he's still in love with Georgia and only took the job to get a chance to win her back. He sings the very tender "I Miss the Music" telling of how he misses the time and work and love he shared with Georgia. The program doesn't specify, but I can't help but wonder if this song was written after Mr. Ebb's death - a song of farewell from Mr. Kander, maybe?

(April 5, 2007 - Note: Click here to read a article about "I Miss the Music.")

As Detective Cioffi, David Hyde Pierce returns to Broadway since his turn as Sir John (the not-so-brave-as-Sir-Lancelot) in "Spamalot." With a Boston accent that visits on occasion, he gives us a Columbo anxious for a life on the boards. He does acquit himself nicely in a fantasy number in the style of Fred Astaire, "Tough Act to Follow." Rob Ashford's choreography is certainly the reason for this success - I liked the "Thumperish" foot tapping during the kiss at the end of the number, somewhat reminiscent of his days from Niles and Daphne.

Debra Monk, as Carmen Bernstein the producer, grabs every moment she's given and a few she wasn't and wrings every laugh to be found. Most of her jokes come from her husband Sidney's (Ernie Sabella) "lack of endowment." When someone complains of the disappointment that the show might close out of town, she responds, "My first disappointment was in the honeymoon suite of the Hotel Taft on my wedding night." She also gets a number of pokes at her daughter (also a company member), Elaine (Megan Sikora) who has renamed herself Bambi Bernet. She gets a chance to really shine when she explains to Elaine why she (Elaine) shouldn't count on any support in advancing her performance career in "It's a Business."

Also returning to Broadway is Karen Ziemba as Georgia. When the movie star is murdered, Georgia is called upon to return to the boards and take over the role. Ms. Ziemba is one of my favorite Broadway performers and I'm thrilled to see her back on the boards. Last seen (to me) in "Never Gonna Dance" Ms. Ziemba is in fine form.

Returning with her is Noah Racey as Bobby Pepper, the lead in the show-within-the-show. He's also in fine form, though I wish choreographer had gone ahead and put tap shows on him. A couple of other nice character turns from Ernie Sabella as Sidney Bernstein and Michael McCormick as Oscar Shapiro. Also worth note is Patty Goble as the quickly-murdered star, Jessica Cranshaw. She has a grand time missing cues, blowing lines and screwing up choreography.

Rob Ashford's choreography is spot on, particularly in the dream ballet (after a fashion) in the Kansas Square Dance number taking a pot shot or two at Agnes DeMille's work in Oklahoma. He also sends up a bit of Hermes Pan, Busby Berkely and Jack Coles, all with great affection.

With more sets than "Gypsy" designed by Anna Louizos, she captures the old style of drops very nicely. Peter Kaczorowski's lighting enhances these nicely. And, with costumes by William Ivey Long, who could ask for more?

Director Scott Ellis keeps the action moving, letting these talented actors enjoy their ride. I'm not sure they've got enough to pull off the Tony, but it's great fun.

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