ONSTAGE REVIEW: Dangerously entertaining

first_imgARVADA | A good deal of the comedy in the Arvada Center’s current production of “Curtains” comes at unexpected moments.Chalk it up to the fusion of genres and styles in the musical by Rupert Holmes, John Kander and Fred Ebb. The show, which debuted in 2006 in Los Angeles and later moved to Broadway, is a simultaneous send-up of Agatha Christie murder mysteries, lavish 1950s musicals and behind-the-scenes mockumentaries aimed at the theater community. Out of this jumble of styles, the show seeks a consistency in sharp comedy, dynamic music and storytelling.Moving ballads and three-part harmonies come right after brutal murders. A gumshoe devoted to solving a homicide case is also an avid theater fan, and offers insights about what makes a good Broadway show. Dialogue and dance moves right out of “Oklahoma!” come alongside jokes bawdy enough to have shut down any show in the 1950s. The show offers a whirlwind of moods and feels, and it demands an able crew to pull it off correctly.Director Gavin Mayer and the Arvada Center cast meet those challenges with ease. Their show captures all the spirited zaniness and comedic chaos of the script — with the amount of pop culture references, sight gags and lush orchestration, it offers the tongue-in-cheek charm of a vintage Looney Tunes short. The production also succeeds in the tricky act of pulling off an effective murder mystery.But there’s a bigger achievement in this production. Amid the homicides, the acrobatic dance numbers, the tributes to the era of Rodgers and Hammerstein and the comic foils, the show gets to the sentimental heart of Rupert Holmes’ book.The success is all the more impressive considering the density of the plot. The show opens up in 1959 on opening night of a new musical titled “Robbin Hood” at the Colonial Theatre in Boston. Jessica Crenshaw, a diva played by Mercedes Perez who can neither dance nor sing, plays the lead role of Madame Marian, and her bum notes and bad moves are an early comedic ploy of the show.Crenshaw accepts two flower bouquets from the crowd after the last number, and soon after, the murder component of the murder-mystery kicks in. She collapses dead backstage, and it’s revealed that the cause is poisoning .Lt. Frank Cioffi (Jim Poulos) arrives to investigate, just as the future of the flawed show starts to look bleak. Producers Carmen Bernstein (Meghan Van De Hey) and Oscar Shapiro (Michael Gold) have just gone through the horrid reviews, and it’s clear the musical is bound for an early closure. But the producers, the songwriters (a divorced couple named Aaron Fox and Georgia Hendricks played by Jeffrey Roark and Lauren Shealy) and the cast (which includes the young ingenue Niki Harris played by Colorado native Erica Sweany) are all quarantined in the theater.As Cioffi works to unravel the first murder, as well as the subsequent homicides that keep popping up during rehearsals, he also works to improve the show. Cioffi, it turns out, is a big fan of the theater. A player in a community troupe, he arrives with tips about staging, music and plot points. All of his input must be incorporated before the show runs for a potential reprieve from theater critic Daryl Grady (Scott Severtson).Out of this chaotic action, several performances shine. Arvada Center stalwart Colin Alexander is downright hilarious as eccentric director Christopher Belling. Jim Poulos, a new arrival at the Arvada Center whose résumé includes Broadway credits, is charming and earnest as Cioffi, and Shealy and Roark are both standouts as the estranged writing couple.Along with excellent orchestration (as well as a charming cameo) by music director David Nehls, those performances help make sense of a story that can feel downright wacky. The silliness and frenzy is never overwhelming here; this production makes a dizzying menu of murder, laughs and old-fashioned musicals approachable.“Curtains”Through July 28, at the Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Blvd.Tickets start at $36720-898-7200arvadacenter.org*  *  *  1/2last_img

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