Curtains review: Likeable Manford gets in on the act for music, mystery and murder

Richard Davenport/The Other Richard
Richard Davenport/The Other Richard

Fans of musical curios will flock to this in-jokey theatrical whodunnit, completed by composer John Kander in 2006, two years after the death of his long-term writing partner, lyricist Fred Ebb. It’s witty, knowing and delivered with enough skill to satisfy completists, but not a patch on the pair’s other great c-word hits, Cabaret and Chicago.

Curtains centres on the murder of the leading lady during tryouts in Boston for a substandard musical cowboy version of Robin Hood, aiming for Broadway in 1959. Life echoes art. Paul Foster’s competent touring production, energetically choreographed by Alistair David, was pulled into London to fill a hole in the West End. It looks exposed here.

The ostensible leads, comedian Jason Manford and Carley Stenson, are likeable but insipid in underwritten parts as the stagestruck detective and a songwriter returning to her acting roots. Their thunder is stolen by Rebecca Lock as the cynical producer and Samuel Holmes as an egotistical British director.

The best songs are the sardonic It’s A Business and The Woman’s Dead, with a chorus line of phoney reactions to the hated victim’s passing. The romantic subplots are mercilessly sent up, in a show that never removes its tongue from its cheek. Here, the tendency of American showbiz to cannibalise and parody itself feels strained, though there are several good gags. The show’s book was written by Rupert Holmes — who readers of a certain age may remember for the Pina Colada song — after the death of Peter Stone, who originally conceived it.

Perhaps you’ll find something heroic in this snarky murder mystery musical. Perhaps you want something other than panto or drama over the festive period. You could certainly do worse than this show. You could also certainly do better.

Until Jan 11 (0844 482 5120,