(August 18, 2006)

Keeping “Curtains” Clean

This is the third installment in the “Broadway Bound” series looking at “Curtains.”

Peter D. Kramer/The Journal News

Now that "Curtains" - the backstage murder mystery musical - has opened in Los Angeles, what's next? Producer Roger Berlind this week said he's thrilled with the progress the show has made and with the response from L.A. audiences, adding that the next step is Broadway, depending on when a theater becomes available.

"All I know is we've got a terrific show. We'll find a home (on Broadway)," he said, adding that if it's not this fall it will be next spring.

"Curtains" stars David Hyde Pierce ("Spamalot"), Debra Monk ("Chicago") and Karen Ziemba ("Contact") and involves Boston detective Frank Cioffi (Pierce), who is called to the Colonial Theater in 1959 to investigate a backstage murder at a Broadway-bound musical, a Wild West version of Robin Hood called "Robbin' Hood." Cioffi, a fan of musicals, comes in to tackle the murder and, perhaps, fix the musical at the same time.

Holmes, who lives in Scarsdale, spoke at the outset of the L.A. run about the long-range plans for "Curtains."

After Sept. 10, after "Curtains" closes at the Ahmanson, what's next?

That will depend primarily on what theaters are available in New York. Broadway is very difficult now.

Your musical of "Marty," which had a successful run in Boston, is still awaiting the right theater. We talked about that last year, how there are many shows circling, looking for just the right theater.

That's right. And this show in particular is a big show and there are only a few theaters that it can go into that will allow it to make back its investment. It's not a matter of being greedy. It's math. There are some shows where, even if you sell out, you still can't make money because of the expense of the show.

Roger Berlind, its producer, is one of the genteel fellows in theater and a gracious man, but he also has to think of the investors and make sure that it is mathematically possible for the investors to make their money back and make a profit.

"Curtains" is a Broadway musical.

We would love to go directly from here to a theater in the fall or in the spring. We would not be in L.A. putting this show on at the Ahmanson if our intent was not to bring it to Broadway, because the show is so much more expensive than the Ahmanson's budget can allow.

Our entire cast is from New York. The people supervising the show in L.A. are from New York. The whole reason for that is because the goal is to get the show to New York. But it's all going to depend on how long certain shows run that are already in theaters that we would like to move into. And there's not a lot of them. It has to be one of a couple of theaters.

And one of your cast members, Edward Hibbert, is appearing in your show on a break from "The Drowsy Chaperone," which is in one of those theaters, the Marquis.

They'll be around awhile. They're not going anywhere soon.

"Curtains" sounds like "Drowsy Chaperone," a valentine to theater.

I've purposely never seen "Drowsy Chaperone," for a reason.

A British actor had signed to be in "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" when it ran in London. And he came to New York to sign his contract and to get his hand shaken by Joe Papp. One day, we met and he said, "You know what I'm going to see this afternoon? I'm going to see `The Mystery of Edwin Drood.'"

I said, "Oh, don't," and he said something funny to me.

He said, "What? Are you afraid I'll copy something?"

And I said, "No, just the opposite. I'm afraid you'll sit in the audience and watch the person playing the part you're going to play and you'll say, `Well, then I won't do that, I won't do that and I won't do that.' " I said, "God forbid you, on your own, would have come up with the same way of doing a line as the other fellow did. If you never see the show, you'll know you're clean."

So not seeing "Drowsy Chaperone" keeps you clean?

I heard there were similarities so I stayed away.

There are people here who have seen it and who, if I wrote something like what was done in "Drowsy Chaperone" would pull me aside and say, "Hey, there's something in `Drowsy Chaperone' that kind of goes like that."

If you had seen it, subconsciously, you wouldn't know where it came from.

Exactly. I'd always distrust it. When I was working on the TV series, "Remember WENN," about the Golden Age of Radio, people would ask me if I'd seen Woody Allen's "Radio Days," and I'd say, "No. And I can't until this series is over." For the same reason. You don't want to be influenced for good or bad. You just want to know that whatever you came up with came out of your head or your background.

So that's why you're bringing in Ed Hibbert, from "Drowsy Chaperone," to make sure there are no similarities. "Curtains" doesn't have extended spit-take scenes, like in "Drowsy Chaperone," does it?

Actually, Ed's very insulted I haven't seen it. He says, "My dear fellow, aren't you going to see it?"

Ed goes back to before I was on "Curtains" and he's got a much bigger part here, playing the director of "Robbin' Hood" who was born on a high horse and has a low opinion of actors. He's wonderful in the role. There's not a shred of scenery left unchewed by him.

Without having seen "Drowsy Chaperone," I don't think they murder anyone.

You've got a body count.

Yes. And I'm sure their score is wonderful, but our score is by Kander and Ebb, and anytime you've got a new score by Kander and Ebb, you say, "Thank God for that."

I know that our show is truly a valentine to the musical theater of the 1950s and early '60s; I think "Drowsy Chaperone" deals with a different time altogether.

For anyone who ever went to a show in 1959 and saw the curtain going up and viewed a very colorful set, it'll bring back great memories. And for those born after that, it's a great chance to see what once was, in the days when they were called "musical comedies." That used to be the genre. Before there was "musical theater," there was this thing called a musical comedy. We don't see a lot of people proclaim that much anymore. This is hopefully that."