|A very strong ensemble cast|
We are a voyeuristic society. We like reality television. We read TMZ. We slow down to stare at fender benders. We follow stories of celebrity deaths as if they were our own family, especially if there are some juicy details. So, it is no surprise that a show about the on-stage murder of a musical theatre diva would be a great draw for today’s audiences. It is even less of a surprise when that show is performed by a profoundly talented cast, fully invested in the energy required to take a show from enjoyable, to unforgettable.
Taking the stage at Westmont High School’s brand-spanking-new theatre is the colorful and vibrant Kander and Ebb offering, Curtains. The late songwriting duo penned this penultimate piece in their musical catalogue as an ode to old murder mysteries, and the ebullient score they created makes for a fun romp around the backstage of a struggling pre-Broadway production in the late 1950’s. When the less-than-stellar star of Robbin’ Hood of the Old West is murdered during the curtain call, every member of the company is looked at as a suspect by Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Chris Halkovic), who takes the wit of Elliot Ness and crosses it with the bumbling and loveable “everyman” persona of Rob Petrie. Halkovic embodies the character, totally believable in more hardnosed moments yet equally charming in his hopeless descent into love for the leading lady’s understudy, Niki Harris (Briana Rapa).
Rapa is a textbook example of an actress who knows where her character is, and where it needs to go. Her words have meaning, and she knows how to use them to stunning effect. Combine this with strong dance chops, striking vocal talent, and a sweet, unassuming ingénue look and you have a package that could give Sutton Foster a run for her money.
The part of the piece that hooks the audience (beyond the homicidal intrigue) is the plethora of interwoven character relationships. (Don’t worry, no spoilers here.) Georgia Hendricks (Amy Spencer) and Aaron Fox (Nima Rakhshanifar) have a wonderful dynamic as a divorced composer/lyricist team with more on their minds than just the music. Hendricks truly shines, finding incredibly pure moments of connection in all facets during “Thinking Of Him”, and driving the Act I finale with Jane Powell-esque attitude and power. Rakhshanifar tugs at your heart strings as a man with regrets, showing off both his pipes and his skills on the piano during “I Miss The Music”.
Also very impressive was Rachel Graves as Carmen Bernstein who embodied the “I’ve seen it all” attitude of a producer to such amazing effect that you would swear she isn’t a high school student. Her take-no-prisoners mindset and mature voice in “It’s A Business” saved the number which was written two verses too long. Michaela Jose is also stunning as Bambi Bernét, performing more acrobatics in her choreography than can possibly be imagined while at the same time proving her triple-threat status with impressive character work and memorable vocals. Chris Thomas also shows off his remarkable dancing talent (not to mention boundless energy) as the show-within-a-show's actor/choreographer, Bobby Pepper.
The show never stops moving as clever and purposeful staging by director Jeff Bengford is matched by high-octane choreography by Barbara Kay. The final look is a show that never goes visually stale but it always rooted in furthering the plot and the characters. In fact, it is striking to see such a large cast utilized so well, and not just thrown on stage to increase participation in the program. Not one character seemed superfluous, as was proven by the addition of a chain-smoking costumer played by Stephanie Gudanets whose deadpan delivery as well as certain “ichthyological accoutrement” made for moments of outright hilarity.
It is refreshing to see a high school program that is not shy about doing a show that tastefully and effectively throws in more mature theatrical elements like sex and adult language while many others take the editing pen and black out larger and larger sections of scripts and scores, watering down brilliant writers whose only crime was writing something that actually reflects real life. That is not to say that high school directors should go out en masse and secure the rights to Glengarry Glen Ross, but great thanks are due to artists who respect the work of other artists and are always mindful that theatre is the art of recreating human existence. While this show is certainly not “edgy”, it is pleasantly realistic in its dialogue on backstage romances, casting couch blackmail, revenge, and the darker side of show business. That alone would be a box office draw. But it is a tremendously talented cast, a dedicated staff, and an entire team of dedicated parents and volunteers which make this show much more than what is inside its libretto.
Westmont High School presents Curtains
4805 Westmont Avenue
Campbell, CA 95008
March 31, April 1, 2 at 7:30pm
April 2 at 2:00pm
Advance Tickets at WestmontDrama.com - $12 adults, $8 students w/ASB
At the door - $15 adults, $10 students w/ASB