Entertainment :: Theatre

’Curtains’ up at the Walnut

by Lewis Whittington
Contributor
Monday Sep 20, 2010
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John Kander and Fred Ebb’s 2007 Tony winner Curtains opens the Walnut Street Theater’s 202nd season.

The show was a hit on Broadway (running some 511 performances) with a stellar cast led by David Hyde Pierce who played Lt. Frank Cioffi of the Boston Police Department, a detective investigating the murder of a much-hated star of a Broadway musical -- Robbin Hood of the Old West -- that’s trying out in that city’s Colonial Theatre in 1959. The show was nominated for eight Tony Awards with Pierce winning for Best Actor in a Musical.

As good as Pierce was, the creative team at the Walnut didn’t want an exact replica of his performance. WST’s director, Richard Stafford and associate director Jonathan Stahl want their production to be more of an ensemble musical.

David Hess plays the Cioffi, who poses as a fan in order to solve the case. Also in the cast is Walnut’s stable of usual song and dance suspects - Jeffrey Coon, Denise Whelan, Ben Dibble, Fran Prisco and Bill van Horn.


A different spin than Broadway

Stahl (who also plays one of the smaller roles) has done several musicals with Stafford and is the dance adapter-choreographer for the production. He was beating back a bug the day before opening, but said he was fine on opening night.

Stahl was able to tap his ballet training with Pennsylvania - Milwaukee Ballet for some of the numbers. "We wanted the choreography to be a little more intricate. Our spin on the show it is a little different from Broadway. The opening number has three couples, who function like a corps de ballet, a definite homage to that era. There is also a tribute to Gower and Marge Champion. You get more of a sense of all of these characters instead of one star. Though this is a big show, the comedy is very subtle with sharp repartee," Stahl said.

Because it’s a musical about a musical, you get hilarious snippets of the play within the play. "Robbin Hood takes place in Kansas in the 30s," Stahl explained. "So it’s all very Wild Wild West -- flat hats, vests and undertaker coats. And designer Colleen Grady’s clothes are so exact. Great tulle gowns and outfits from the 50s."

Being Kander and Ebb musical, there is the expected backstage gay shtick. "My character is implicated as having an affair with another man in Act II. And, of course, (there are) jokes about the chorus boys."

Stahl thinks Kander and Ebb musicals are so popular because "it’s the whole package, not so specialized, a quality of their shows that really looks to entertain everybody."

Curtains runs through October 24, 2010 at the Walnut Street Theatre
825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA. For more information, visit the

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.

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