Barestage’s Curtains is a Reminder of Why We Do Musicals
If you’re looking for all the pizzazz, dazzle, and spirit of a classic musical theater show, Curtains will give you just that, and more.
After years of being on the stage himself, senior Ethan Glasman transitioned offstage to make his directorial debut with Berkeley’s Barestage Productions. Glasman delivers in creating an enchanting theater experience. An array of large, energetic musical numbers decorated with showy choreography, vibrant costumes, and colorful, ever-changing lighting kept all ears and eyes fixated on the performers and their dynamic use of the stage.
Set in 1950s Boston, the show starts off with a bang -- the murder of Jessica Cranshaw, the untalented star of the fictional musical Robbin’ Hood of the Old West throws the cast and crew into disarray. (We quickly realize we’re watching a musical within a musical, as the opening scene consists of actors giving their curtain bows.) But her untimely death gives the production team the opportunity to revamp a show disparaged by terrible reviews. A dramatic number (“The Woman’s Dead”), complete with a fog machine and ominous, midnight-blue lighting sets the black-comedy tone for the rest of the show.
With only a few nights to completely overhaul the show, the lovable Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Jackson Paddock) steps onto the scene of the crime. An admirer of the theater himself, Cioffi evokes something akin to Twin Peaks’ enthusiastic FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper as he quarantines the cast and crew in an attempt to solve the murder mysteries while also seeing to the show’s preparation for its second-chance at a successful opening night.
As love blossoms between him and cast-member Nikki Harris (Gracie Balistreri), the show teeter-totters back and forth between heart-warming ballads and thrilling murder attempts as Cioffi and the rest of the cast and crew try to puzzle together who the murderer is.
Standout performances came from virtually all the leading characters. Aidan Basset, playing a brazen and flamboyant Director Christopher Belling, provoked the audience into laughter with his exquisite delivery of fiery one-liners in a posh accent that was somehow both ambiguous and utterly spot-on. Most impressive, though, were his animated eyebrows, which deserved a standing ovation in and of themselves.
Anna Barcellos’ angelic voice was a true match to her sincere portrayal of Georgia Hendricks, one of Robinhood’s songwriters, and the chemistry she shared with Aaron Fox (Abrar Haque) contributed to some of the show’s more touching moments.
While watching Keila Cone-Uemura, it was easy to forget she’s only of college age, as she perfectly embodied the cougar-like ruthlessness of stage-mother Carmen Bernstein, the financial backer of the production and whose daughter, Bambi Bernét (Jillian Smith), relentlessly vies for the deceased Cranshaw’s lead role.
The casts’ energy was infectious -- a profusion of laughs and smiles from the audience was like a harmony on top of the melody played by the live orchestra in the humble-sized theaterOnly a few weaknesses beset the performance. At times, the show dragged on and a few musical numbers could’ve been cut; (Trying to perfect Robbin Hood’s signature number, “In the Same Boat,” felt like beating a dead horse, after a while). One particularly confusing moment arrose when Hendricks’ character made an abrupt and unexpected confession; it felt like a last-minute plot point that needed more development throughout the story.
But this biggest takeaway from the show was a deepened appreciation for the magic of Broadway. As a musical depicting a musical, the show has the unique, self-aware position of being able to sing about broadway itself. Numbers like “It’s a Business” cynically mock the cut-throat nature and inauthenticity of show business, acknowledging the harsh reality that for some, (“It isn't making history / It isn't making art / It's a business”)! Others like “Show People,” though, display an unfaltering devotion to the musical world (“Civilians find the whole thing quite bizarre / But that hop in our hearts / When the overture starts / Helps us know how lucky we are”). The cast and crew of this Barestage production surely poured their hearts into a performance that honored that affection for the inexplicable power of the stage. Leaving the theater uplifted by such a wholehearted performance, which reflected a deep commitment to the arts, was a much-needed antidote to the mundanities of the week.
Curtains will be showing its final performances November 28th, 30th, and December 1st in the Choral Rehearsal Hall.