Perf. Arts

Civic Theatre’s ‘Curtains’ a whodunit musical comedy



By Julie McHale - TimeOut Theater Critic

March 20, 2014


In a scene from “Curtains,” Lt. Cioffi has told everyone that there is incriminating evidence in the briefcase, then he is called off stage, leaving the briefcase alone center stage. As he exits the lights go off, and then come right back up with everyone “caught” reaching for the case. It was a trick for Cioffi to try to narrow it down to people who had something to hide, only to find they all have something to hide.
Submitted photo

WAUKESHA - “Curtains” by John Kander and Fred Ebb, their last work, does not measure up  to their best musicals - “Cabaret,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “Chicago.” But it is, nonetheless, a fun piece, combining comedy, mystery and  a tongue-in-cheek tribute to some of the traditions of the American musical.

The Waukesha Civic Theatre is presenting “Curtains” through March 30. Opening-night jitters were apparent at times with forgotten lines and missed cues, but the cast soldiered on with courage and resolve. Some of these problems will probably disappear as their confidence grows. The inclusion of many new faces is refreshing and always a sign that a community theater is thriving. There were no stunning vocalists, but even those with pitch problems made up for their deficits with style and earnestness.

As the play opens, the cast and crew of “Robin Hood” have just suffered through a rather disastrous opening night, and the producers are bemoaning their fate as they discuss the mean-spirited critic of the Boston Globe who has just panned their efforts. The leading lady collapses during the final bow, and as they discuss with the director who should take over for Jessica, they get the news that she has died.

Enter Lt. Frank Cioffi, who, along with his role as criminal investigator, happens to be a musical theater buff. Much of the humor derives from his switching from one role to the other, sometimes even taking over as director at rehearsals. He, of course, falls in love with one of the performers - Niki, an understudy for Jessica. This secretive romance, along with the defunct relationship between composer Aaron and lyricist-performer Georgia, plus the conflicted Bernstein family’s ongoing histrionics, constitute the chief alliances in the plot and pique our ongoing interest.

Meanwhile, during the quarantine Cioffi has issued, several other characters are mysteriously murdered (I’ll never tell), as some of the aforementioned relationships begin to thrive while others deteriorate.

The most well-developed characters in the show include Jim Halverson as Cioffi, Jacqueline Boelkow as Niki Harris, Abby Adams as Bambi Bernt, Bryan Hermsen as Aaron Fox, Marty Graffenius as Christopher Belling, Dawn Baldwin as Carmen Bernstein. All are well cast, but the standouts are Halverson, Adams and Graffenius. 

Dancing honors go to Boelkow, Isaac Farrell and Adams. Stage director Johnny, played by Phillip Alonge, also deserves special mention for credibly capturing the many duties and stresses of the harried manager, the man responsible for coordinating the myriad details of putting on a big show.

The best solo numbers were “Coffee Shop Nights” by Cioffi, “I Miss the Music” by Fox and “It’s a Business” by Bernstein. The cleverest ensemble numbers are “The Woman’s Dead,” “Thataway” (led by vocalist Marann Curtis) and the final rendition of the ever-recurring “In the Same Boat.”

Costumes by Sallie Burkard were wonderful; set designer Chris Budish’s afforded easy and swift manipulation. Overall direction by Meghan Randolph offered the audience an enjoyable experience.

“Curtains” runs through March 30 at the Waukesha Civic Theatre, 264 W. Main St. For show times and tickets, call 547-0708 or visit