When the lights go up on the Robert G. Reim Theatre Friday, it will mean curtains for several actors as they drop like flies, victims of murder most foul. Who is guilty of the crimes? That's the job of Lt. Frank Cioffi—detective by day, musical theater fan by night—as he probes into the sordid, complicated relationships of the cast members in Curtains, presented by Kirkwood Theatre Guild Friday through May 7.
The murder mystery musical by Rupert Holmes, with music and lyrics by songwriters Kander and Ebb—best known for Cabaret and Chicago—is about a Broadway-bound show starting out in Boston. Written in 2006, Curtains is the last show by the famed composer and lyricist combo. Fred Ebb passed away during the writing stage.
The star of the show is faded film diva Jessica Cranshaw, played by Betsey Gasoske. Cranshaw is a triple threat: She can't sing, can't dance and can't act. When she is murdered during the curtain call, Lt. Cioffi, played by Alan Aguilar, arrives on the scene only to discover everyone had a motive to do her in. More actors will be murdered as Cioffi races to find the killer and save the show, and maybe find love as well.
The musical is a comedy with farcical elements and could be played as a straight out farce, strictly for the laughs. But not in the hands of St. Louis director, Adam Grun, who prefers a more realistic approach. Grun—who directed Out of the Frying Pan for the guild in 2010—is crafting the show as more of a roller coaster ride rather than a constant, unrelenting thrill.
“There are farcical elements, but my style is to make things more real,” Grun said. “I like to show the real aspects of characters.”
Bringing out the realistic elements of a play primed for outrageous comedy is no easy task. The tendency of everyone involved is to play things to the hilt and always go for the big laugh. But if you can play the characters as real people, combined with an hilarious script, the laughs will take care of themselves.
“It's a challenge just to get people to not play it like a farce—although that's in there, too,” Grun said. “There are tender moments. I like to show two people falling in love. Those are the elements I like to see in theater.”
Alan Aguilar, who plays Lt. Frank Cioffi, has also had to work at pulling his performance back. “That's one of the major challenges to me,” Aguilar said. “The tendency to make it a huge, gigantic thing. It's easy to do that, but pull it back to a realistic level—that's not as easy.”
As Georgia Hendricks, Joy Powell found the realism easier. “It's easy for me, because my character is written more stoically,” Powell said. “The characters are really accessible. They're very funny—just hilarious.”
Both Aguilar and Powell are meeting the challenges and having a great time bringing Curtains to the stage. “During the rehearsal it's down to business, but at the end of the day, it's a lot of fun,” Aguilar said.
Powell, a 20-year veteran of the stage, concurs. “This is my favorite role I've ever played,” she said. “This is a new kind of character for me and that makes it fun.”
What: Curtains Book by Rupert Holmes. Music and lyrics by Kander and Ebb, with additional lyrics by Holmes.
Where: Robert G. Reim Theatre; Kirkwood Community Center, 111 S. Geyer Rd, Kirkwood.
When: All shows 8 p.m. except Sunday matinee, at 2 p.m.; Friday-Sunday, May 5, 6 and 7
Tickets: Visit the Kirkwood Theatre Guild website or call 314-821-9956