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The musical “Curtains” draws in audience engagement

When a detective walks into a theatre for a murder investigation, the last thing you would expect him to do is to have a hand in improving the play. So is the story of “Curtains,” a play-within-a-play musical produced by the Musical Theatre Club.

It all begins when the “late, if less than great” Jessica Cranshaw (played by Juliet Schick) dies after her final performance as Madame Marian in the acting troupe’s production of “Robbin’ Hood.” Every player is a possible suspect, so Detective Frank Cioffi (played by Connor Kertiss) decides to quarantine the troupe in the theater until he uncovers the perpetrator.

Within the acting troupe is an exorbitant group of actors, directors, stagehands and producers. Notable players are Cranshaw’s understudy and Cioffi’s love interest Nikki Harris (Mary Davis), the business-focused producer Carmen Bernstein (Johanna Alonso), her ambitious daughter and dancer Bambi Bernét (Emma Gilligan), the divorced composer couple Georgia Hendricks and Aaron Fox (Katie Allison and Daniel Morris, respectively) and the fervent British director Christopher Belling (Scott Armiger).

After a scathing review by the animated Boston Globe critic Daryl Grady (Sam Saper), the troupe tries to improve. Hendricks takes Cranshaw’s role to Fox’s dismay, and Cioffi offers to increase the production value of the musical, while hardly acknowledging the murder of Cranshaw and two subsequent characters.

The portrayals of the “Curtains” cast made for memorable characters. Saper’s performance of Grady could be likened to a zany cartoon of the play’s setting (1959), with his active movements and the use of his cigar. Alonso’s Bernstein added a cynical yet comical edge to the “sausage-making” of the theatre, making the later reveal of the support for her daughter’s Broadway ambitions all the more heartwarming.

The levity in which murder and the troubles of the theatrical troupe were handled made “Curtains” so enjoyable. The script and score of the play were wonderful but were brought to life by the comedic timing of the actors. The moments where Cioffi would lament having quarantined Harris to the theater were memorable gags. The comedy was not only found in the dialogue but in the songs as well.

The songs of “Curtains” impressively brought in a range of emotions to the audience. Songs like “I Miss the Music” and “Thinking of Missing the Music” encouraged spectators to yearn for Hendricks and Fox to reunite.  Morris’s emotional performance in the former song changes the spectator’s view of the character from annoyance to that of sympathy. The romance finally comes to fruition in the latter song, a  touching duet between Morris and Allison.

Allison’s Hendricks truly shines in her solo in the song “Thataway!” Her vocal talents along with the rest of the ensemble were reminiscent of the classic Broadway musicals of the past.  The dancing practiced by Gilligan was also a splendor to watch in the song and other scenes, proving her character’s dancing expertise.  All the songs, taught by vocal director Daniel Morris and assistant vocal director Tara Kitchelt, were performed well. The dancing ushered by choreographers Tricia Goudreau and Jocelyn Ko added in the flair that made the musical performances truly eye-opening.

The song “He did It” has the characters mirror the speculations of the audience. The cast and crew hilariously accuse others of the slayings. The accused are frozen and bathed in a pointer’s malicious red light, as both the characters and audience consider how they could have committed the act. This prop choice by prop master Corbett Parsons helped encapsulate the mood of the scene.

Due to these songs and comedy, the audience participation was highly palpable. People were speculating who the killer was between scenes and audibly laughing at the gags, antics, and jokes the characters offered. Freshman biochemistry major Jason Essifie lauded the play for its masterful “mix of humor and suspense.”

Ultimately, the musical was about the power of theater, and the reprises of “Show People” and “A Tough Act to Follow” depicted the love and fervor people in the theatre industry feel towards their work, drawing Cioffi in as well.

For the Musical Theatre Club to return to this story after 11 years, one can see the work and love the whole crew has for the nuances and message that “Curtains” offers. They clearly dedicated this show to their roots and to the wonder of musicals.