By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Still, the show covers such blemishes with a coat of beguiling wit, much of it carried by Robbin’ Hood’s Wildean director, suavely played by Edward Hibbert, who proposes a moment of silence for his fallen leading lady “to match the audience’s response to her performance.”
“The Woman’s Dead,” a prayer honoring the first victim, has all the warm fuzzies of Chicago via Bertolt Brecht.
“She had no brains/She had no wits/She just had tits/And now she’s dead.”
Similar respect is offered to theater critics in “What Kind of Man?”:
“What kind of slob/Would take a job like that?/What kind of low-down dirty bum . . . Loathsome as they come/What kind of putz would squeeze your nuts like that?”
(When somebody discovers a rave remark in the shredded reviews on the floor, the critic emerges as a “genius.”)
Subplots concerning the possible reunion of a husband-and-wife composer-lyricst team (Jason Danieley and Karen Ziemba), and another about Carmen’s testy relationship with her daughter (Megan Sikora), pour dollops of honey into the acidic humor. More so than Cabaret or Chicago, Curtains is antisentimental and sentimental at the same time, simultaneously a parody and a tribute, a charm offensive embodied in a magical Marge-and-Gower-Champion dance routine performed by the elastic Pierce and the delightful Jill Paice, playing the company’s understudy. In his pristine staging, director Scott Ellis dresses up the entire spectacle in William Ivey Long’s dazzling Folies Bergère costumes, then parades it in Rob Ashford’s sexually charged choreography. But where Cabaret and Chicago used such eroticism in the service of a cynical view upon the workings of the world, Curtains is a parody of shadows. No single musical can be held responsible for the state of American theater, but Curtains is yet another indicator of the rampant conservatism that Blessing alluded to, with its nostalgic view of bygone eras that resists challenging any of our core values. (The Drowsy Chaperone played in this theater last year and went on to entrance Broadway audiences.)
Up in Ojai, playwright Sherry Kramer said she was trying to grapple with what it meant to grow up in middle-class America, oblivious to what our country was doing beyond our borders. Curtains is one more tiny part of that oblivion. If it has a heart, it beats behind Carmen’s showstopping “It’s a Business,” in which the producer belittles the earnest, exploratory impulses of artists and their art, from Gorky to Shaw to Beckett to all the scribes of Ojai — anybody whose work fails to turn a profit. Tellingly, “It’s a Business” drew one of the biggest ovations of the show. Even though Carmen later admitted it was partly bluster, her song contains no strategically sickening irony, like Cabaret’s “The Future Belongs to Me,” sung by Nazi youth. “It’s a Business” celebrates who we are at the height of empire, from Broadway to Kansas to beyond our borders. Curtains is banking on it.
CURTAINS | By RUPERT HOLMES, JOHN KANDER and FRED EBB, based on a concept by PETER STONE | At the AHMANSON THEATER, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown | Through September 10 | (213) 628-2772 or www.taperahmanson.org
As one character in the performance Static eats lunch and watches a TV news report about the atrocities of Darfur, a second character — similarly motionless — describes in detail the horrors she was subjected to as a victim of Darfur’s nightmare. When the victim appears on the TV screen, for a fleeting moment, the worlds of the two characters intersect. The production by the English company from Leeds, Theatre Unlimited, appears to be a political variation on a similarly stark two-character recitation by another innovative Midlands performance troupe — Forced Entertainment’s Exquisite Pain, about the essences of grief and heartbreak. The U.S. premiere of Staticwill be presented in conjunction with the exhibition “Rwanda/After, Darfur/Now: Photographs of Michal Ronnen Safdie.” Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Wed., Aug. 16 & Fri., Aug. 18, 8 p.m. (866) 468-3399 or www.ticketweb.com.
To celebrate Highways’ 17th birthday, Dance troupe Diavolo, plus Method Contemporary Dance, Bradley Michaud and Jay Bartley, Holly Johnston and LABdp plus Stephanie Nugent take the stage on Friday, Aug. 18, 8:30 p.m. On Saturday, Aug. 19, 8:30 p.m., Holly Hughes returns with a “sapphic sampler” of new work, plus a presentation by Luis Alfaro. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. (310) 453-1755.