Dance and choreography are generally not a forte of community theater. You may find a smattering of accomplished dancers in a production, but it's not often you get solid hoofing from the entire cast.
Chalk this one up for Waukesha Civic Theatre and its presentation of Kander and Ebb's "Curtains." The show is a musical comedy murder-mystery, three popular genres rolled into one.
The story concerns a theater troupe putting on a musical that looks a lot like "Oklahoma" — there's even a tune called "Kansasland." On opening night, the show's star, who is woefully incompetent, collapses during the final curtain call. The cast and crew learn a bit later that she has not only died, but was poisoned.
Lt. Frank Cioffi comes to the theater and tells the troupe they are all under suspicion for the murder and they can't leave the theater. There are subplots that include musical collaborators, and once-married, Aaron (Bryan Hermsen) and Georgia (Marann Curtis), and the show's star Bobby (Isaac Farrell), who pines for Georgia. The show's director, Christopher (Marty Graffenius), is a clichéd egomaniac; Carmen (Dawn Baldwin), the tough co-producer, wants to go on with the show despite the horrible reviews; and controversy surrounds the question of who should replace the fallen star.
Much of the humor comes from Cioffi, an amateur thespian who spends just as much time offering suggestions for the show as he does trying to solve the murder. The lines between reality and stagecraft blur as the investigator becomes deeply invested in the show while a murderer is being sought.
The musical numbers in WCT's show are handled with great verve, the costumes and set design are fabulous and the singing and aforementioned dancing are top-notch. But unlike the prohibition era "Chicago," another Kander — Ebb musical collaboration, this show lacks interesting characters like Velma, Roxie, Billy Flynn and Mama Morton and hard-hitting numbers like "Cell Block Tango" and "Mr. Cellophane."
The "Curtains" central character is Cioffi, who is attracted to a cast member which complicates his duties as faux director and murder investigator. But, as is often the case with murder-mysteries, the characters play second fiddle to the twists and turns of the plot..
Jim Halverson as Cioffi has wonderful stage presence, dances nicely with Jacqueline Boelkow — who plays Niki — in "A Tough Act to Follow," but on opening night he seemed a rehearsal short of nailing the dialogue.
The show incorporates some clever tunes into the story, such as "She's Dead," which describes the cast's indifference to the star's passing, and "He Did It," in which cast members make nocturnal forays about the theater with flashlights, nervous that a killer is among them. The fine-tuning of "In the Same Boat" for the troupe's show and its final incarnation are a cute diversion.
Another fun number is the dance hall scene, "Thataway," part of the show within a show. A few more fellas would have been nice for the number, but Curtis and the ensemble give it lots of pizzazz while the dance hall girls, and their costumes, give the scene lots of life. Especially appealing is Jacob Rankin as Randy whose expressive gestures really engage the audience.
Yet, there are a number of quite forgettable tunes and some that just seemed borrowed, like "Show People," which sounds a lot like "There's No Business Like Show Business."
Boelkow as the slightly dippy Niki gives another mature, poised performance and adds some nice touches of comedy, especially when she finds a gun backstage. Abby Adams is the perfect blonde Bambi, the daughter of the co-producer who just won't admit to her talent. Adams is light as a feather as she charms her way through an Indian dance in the "Kansasland" scene.
Anthony Mackie, who does such a fine job for WCT as wigmaster, couldn't have been a hair better with these fabulous choices for coifs, while choreographer Chelsea Gallo has the dance numbers crisp and lively.
While this wasn't WCT's finest moment, it was a fun — and fast-moving — nearly three-hour show filled with high quality music and dance.
IF YOU GO
Who: Waukesha Civic Theatre
When: Through March 30
Where: 264 W. Main St., Waukesha
Tickets: (262) 547-0708