March 24, 2007

"Curtains" is Out of Style

If you go to the theater enough, certain Broadway houses become not only familiar but friends. The Al Hirschfeld, which used to be called the Martin Beck, is an old pal of mine. Not only is it one of the most beautiful theaters in New York, it is also the theater where my husband K was playing in the orchestra when we first started dating. The old-world glamour of the almost 83 year-old theater would seem to be a fitting home for Curtains, the last musical by John Kander and the late Fred Ebb. For although Curtains is clearly striving to be one of those post-modern musicals like The Drowsy Chaperone that pokes loving fun at the musical comedy genre, it is just an old-fashioned show. But, alas, not as good as they used to make them in the old days.

A big Kander and Ebb fan, I was rooting for their swan song to work. And I wasn’t the only one. As the Wall Street Journal’s theater critic Terry Teachout noted in his review (click here to read it), “everybody wanted their last musical to be great.” It’s not a terrible show. Anna Louizos's sets and William Ivey Long’s costumes are appropriately bright and wacky. Rob Ashford’s choreography is lively. Old hands like Debra Monk, Karen Ziemba, Edward Hibbert and Ernie Sabella do their patented terrific stuff. And star David Hyde Pierce as a theater smitten-detective assigned to solve a backstage murder seems to be enjoying himself so much that I couldn’t help enjoying him too. But the music, with the exception of one song that plays almost like a private letter from Kander to Ebb, is pretty much generic and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d seen all of this before, wanted something more.

After the show, K and I walked over to Sardi’s for a late dinner. For years, the legendary restaurant, its walls famously filled with caricatures of Broadway’s greatest stars, had been the theater community’s unofficial clubhouse. But over the last two decades, theater people have been more apt to go to Orso, Joe Allen and Angus McIndoe. Some made return appearances at Sard’s in the weeks following the January 4 death of the restaurant’s owner, Vincent Sardi, who was known as the mayor of Broadway. My friend Bill went for the first time in years in February and said he was surprised by how good the food was and how many acquaintances he saw there. But the few tables occupied the night K and I went seemed to be taken up mainly by tourists. We overhead a waiter explaining the portraits on the walls to one of them. The restaurant apparently makes an effort to keep up with the times by adding fresh faces. But K and I found that we recognized very few of them. They don’t seem to be making Broadway stars as distinctive as they made them in the old days either.

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