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Theatre / Curtains

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"There's a special kind of people known as: show people!"

Curtains is a 2007 Kander and Ebb musical murder-mystery-comedy. It was nominated for eight Tony Awards, though it only won one (David Hyde Pierce - Best Actor in a Musical). The original cast included David Hyde Pierce and Debra Monk.

The show is set in 1959 Boston, where a troupe of actors is trying out a musical called Robbin' Hood of the Old West. During the opening night curtain call, the extremely untalented star, Jessica Cranshaw, drops dead. Lt. Frank Cioffi is sent to the theater to investigate what has been determined to be a murder, declaring no one is allowed to leave the building.


The list of suspects includes pretty much everybody, as no one much liked Jessica. First there is the producer, Carmen Bernstein, who is busy trying to get the cast to continue on with the show despite the loss of its lead. Composer Aaron Fox is preoccupied with rewriting a big production number while his lyricist ex-wife Georgia Hendricks is convinced to take over the lead. Cioffi takes a liking to Jessica's understudy, Niki, and hopes she's not the murderer. Other suspects include the flamboyant director, Christopher Belling, theater critic Daryl Grady, Carmen's shady husband, Sydney, who claims to have just arrived from New York, Bambi, their ambitious daughter, financial backer Oscar Shapiro, leading man Bobby Pepper, and stage manager Johnny Harmon.

Not to be confused with the 1983 Canadian Slasher Movie of the same title.


This musical includes examples of:

  • The '50s: The musical takes place in 1959.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Cioffi's a big one, seeing as he helps fix the show and gets to play Rob Hood in the musical at the end.
  • Abusive Parents: Double subverted: Carmen insults her daughter Bambi every chance she gets, but it was mainly to give her a chance to shine without being accused of nepotism. Played straight with Sid, who doesn't even seem to know he has a stepdaughter.
  • Alone Among the Couples: Cioffi admits to Niki that he doesn't have much of a social life because all of his friends are married and busy with their wives/families.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Oscar Shapiro and Sid and Carmen Bernstein. The names give it away and they possess some stereotypically Jewish traits as well, mainly a love of money.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Belling. Or at the very least Camp Straight.
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  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: No one is particularly upset by Jessica's death, personally or professionally.
    Belling: And what are they going to do with her killer? I mean, does he get some sort of trophy, or a Pontiac convertible?
  • Asshole Victim: Jessica. And Sidney, even more so.
  • Beta Couple: Georgia and Aaron.
  • Black Comedy:
    Niki: She sang each word
    The angels heard
    They closed her mouth
    And shipped her south
    The woman's done.
    • Sid Bernstein's death is Played for Laughs as it's partly caused by Johnny misinterpreting Cioffi's instructions to not close the curtain.
    • Because of Jessica and Sid being Asshole Victims, many post-mortem jokes are made at their expense.
    Belling: Shall we observe a moment of silence (Beat) to match the audience's response to Jessica's first number.
  • Blackmail: Sid Bernstein is revealed to have done this to almost every member of the production to get them to work for scale (or in Oscar's case invest in the show). The only exceptions were Aaron and Georgia who missed each other and wanted to work together again, Bobbywho was helping Georgia win back Aaron, and Niki and Bambi both of whom saw the show as their chance to finally be on Broadway.
  • Big Secret: Niki has one, namely that she's actually friends with Darryl Grady and he's been purposely praising her in his reviews to help further her career. Subverted since knowing this would have helped Cioffi solve the case since Grady is actually in love with her and was committing the murders to keep her from leaving Boston for Broadway.
  • Bookends: The show begins and ends with the finale of Robbin' Hood, with a couple of casting differences: Georgia taking over for Jessica and Cioffi taking over for Bobby.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: After, Cioffi compliments the art of theatrical criticism, he says, "You never know who's in your audience".
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: While Cioffi is easily distracted by the glamour of being among professional performers, he is nonetheless a skilled detective who works out multiple conspiracies in the cast (and, as it turns out, is a rather brilliant script doctor as well).
  • Cast Full of Gay: Bobby is the only male cast member of Robbin' Hood that is straight.
  • Cat Scare: Johnny is alone on stage and hears creepy noises from offstage, but it turns out to be just Chris playing with a stray cat. Then he hears more creepy noises, but this time it turns out to be the murderer and Johnny gets shot.
  • Caustic Critic: Nearly every review Robbin' Hood gets at first seems to come from one of these, and the cast spends an entire song ("What Kind Of Man") calling out this type of critics.
  • Chicken-and-Egg Paradox: Lt. Cioffi has this exchange with Aaron prior to "I Miss The Music":
    Cioffi: Can I ask? Only because I've wondered this my entire life — Which would normally come first? The music, or the lyric?
    Aaron: Same answer as the chicken or the egg.
    Cioffi: Ah. So it's the lyric.
  • Crowd Song: "Wide Open Spaces", "Show People", "Thataway", "He Did It", "Kansasland" the last "In the Same Boat"
    • Justified with a few of the numbers, as "Wide Open Spaces", "Thataway", "Kansasland" and the final version of "In The Same Boat" were actually rehearsed for Robbin' Hood.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Carmen and Belling, although everyone in the cast has their moments.
  • Death by Woman Scorned: Sid continually cheated on Carmen, but she put up with it as her primary concern was giving Bambi the chance to be a Broadway star. However, once he told her he was going to shut down Robin' Hood, which would've torpedoed Bambi's career, she snaps at the thought of having to put up with him for nothing and kills him.
  • Divorce Is Temporary: Georgia and Aaron used to be married but then got divorced years ago. They get back together of course.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": "Shut up, Elaine!" "The name is Bambi... Mother"
  • Do Not Spoil This Ending: The closing number advises the audience not to give away the murderer or it might be curtains for them next.
  • Drama-Preserving Handicap: After Bobby gets injured and has trouble moving, Cioffi is sure he'll be fine for the show, convinced that he'll get an adrenaline rush once it's time to perform. In the end, Cioffi is shown taking his place meaning that this did not happen and that Bobby's passion for performing cannot overcome a severe head injury.
  • Dying Clue: Johnny rips out a page from his notebook with the stage direction "Drop in Planet Earth" as he is dying from a gunshot wound. "Planet Earth" was supposed to represent The Boston Globe and critic Daryl Grady, the murderer.
  • Establishing Character Moment: As the Robbin' Hood is finishing their mock funeral for Jessica, our main character arrives on stage:
    Lt. Cioffi: (formally) Excuse me, I'm Lt. Frank Cioffi of the Greater Boston Police. I'm assigned to the homicide division and- (gushing) oh, it's an honor to be standing on the same stage with each and everyone of you!
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Subverted; Cioffi shouts "That's it! I've solved it!" But he turns out to mean that he's figured out how to improve one of the musical numbers in Robbin' Hood; he still doesn't know who the murderer is.
  • Extremely Short Time Span: The show takes place over a time period of less than 48 hours. According to the script, the first scene takes place at 10:45 p.m. Saturday with the finale at 10:20 p.m. Monday.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • One of the very first songs, "What Kind of Man", is about how awful critics are. The critic turns out to be the murderer.
    • Niki being able to recognize Darryl Grady despite the fact his image has never been shown to the general public.
    • During the murderer's Motive Rant, they mention everything they did to kill Jessica and Johnny. They never say anything about Sid.
  • Glad I Thought of It: Belling does it for all of Cioffi's suggestions, to the point where he asks him to come up with another idea so he can take credit for it.
  • Green-Eyed Epiphany: Aaron has one over Georgia.
  • Hidden Depths: While Bambi comes off as The Ditz for much of the show, especially in light of her mother's comments that she has no talent, her dance number in "Kansasland" shows that she's actually a great dancer. This tips Cioffi off to the fact that Carmen's criticism is all an act.
  • "I Am" Song: "It's a Business" for Carmen, "Coffee Shop Nights" for Cioffi
  • Imagine Spot: "Tough Act To Follow"
  • The Ingenue: Niki, with a generous helping of The Ditz and Cloudcuckoolander on the side.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Bobby towards Georgia.
  • Jerkass: Sid is a cheating husband who berates everyone around him and blackmailed almost everyone in the show.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Carmen's jerkass attitude towards Bambi is all a ruse so Bambi can succeed on Broadway without having anyone accuse her of nepotism.
  • Large Ham: Magnificently done with Mr. Belling. Sid Bernstein can also be a large ham if required.
  • Locked in a Room: Cioffi forces everyone in the production to stay put in the theater until he solves the murder. Justified because, as he explains, Jessica was murdered on stage, meaning it had to be one of them and he doesn't have the resources to keep tabs on everybody around the clock. Of course, it turns out he was wrong and the culprit left right after the bows.
  • Minor Major Character: In the Show Within a Show, Randy plays the major supporting role of Parson Tuck. Within Curtains, he's just a member of the ensemble with speaking lines.
  • Meaningful Echo: Parson Tuck's final speech of Robbin' Hood. First shown on opening night being delivered to Bobby, and at the end of the play it gains new meaning when Cioffi steps into the role of Rob Hood.
    "You came to us as a stranger, rid this place of crime, and gave us a new hope in ourselves."
  • Ms. Fanservice: Jessica Cranshaw.
  • Mood Whiplash: Severe. The play usually alternates between complete seriousness and laugh-out-loud moments in the same scene (one after another, of course).
  • Musical World Hypotheses: Most of the songs are diegetic as they're performed by the cast for Robbin' Hood. Other songs have varying justifications from being Imagine Spots ("Tough Act to Follow") to improvised on the spot ("The Woman's Dead").
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Johnny knows a secret about Niki that he refuses to tell Cioffi. The murderer shoots Johnny because the secret could help Cioffi solve the case. As he is dying Johnny rips out a page from his notebook that gives Cioffi the final clue to the murderer's identity.
  • Not Me This Time: Sid Bernstein wasn't killed by the same person who killed Jessica and Johnny.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • What happened in the bridal suite at the Hotel Taft. Brought up again and again and again by Carmen.
    • Whatever Harv did to Randy to make him feel "wounded deep down".
  • Red Herring: Played for Laughs. Niki throughout the show is hinted to be the killer, since she had the most motive to kill Jessica as her understudy and keeps conveniently finding evidence and leaving her fingerprints all over it. Cioffi willfully ignores because of his crush on her, making her look more suspicious to the audience. It turns out instead to be Niki's ex boyfriend trying to keep her from leaving him.
  • No Reprise, Please: After Bobby gets shot, Niki appears onstage carrying the murderer's gunnote  and the Robbin Hood cast and production team immediately assume she's guilty. They all begin to sing "She Did It (Reprise)" before Cioffi tells them to stop it.
  • Pair the Spares: Bobby and Bambi.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Even though he has a big ego, Belling is one of these as he treats his cast and crew well and is willing to listen to Cioffi's suggestions for improving the show.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: The show-within-a-show is Robin Hood set in the Old West (i.e. instead of stealing from the rich to give to the poor, he steals from railroad tycoons to give to farmers).
  • Running Gag: Whenever Cioffi and Niki have a tender moment, Cioffi asks if he can walk her home. Niki then reminds him he sequestered her, much to Cioffi's frustration.
    • Niki finding a piece of Evidence, before realizing she has now covered them with her Finger Prints.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Sid tries pulling this on Cioffi after the latter sequesters him, but he doesn't budge.
    Sid: Lieutenant, I have many influential friends in New York City!
    Cioffi: Too bad you're in Boston.
  • Sensitive Artist: Discussed near the end in regards to people involved in show business: "We're a special kind of people known as show people. We live in a world full of dreams. Sometimes we're not too certain what's false and what's real. But we're seldom in doubt about what we feel."
  • Shaped Like Itself: "The song itself is kind of lackluster. It lacks... luster."
  • Sherlock Scan: Subverted and Lampshaded by Cioffi. Niki shows him some death threats she found in Jessica's dressing room and asks if they mean anything. Cioffi jokingly says that judging by the notes the sender is a 30 year old, 6'3", former Merchant Marine named Lefty before admitting the notes actually reveal very little about the murderer's identity.
  • Shout-Out:
    • To Cabaret, another Kander and Ebb musical. In "I Miss the Music", the very distinctive Cabaret-esque vamp is played. Curtains was composed by the same team.
    • Belling snarkily refers to Cioffi sequestering them as a "marathon production of No Exit".
    • "Wide Open Spaces" is essentially the title number of Oklahoma!, down to the spelling out the state name (with Kansas standing in for Oklahoma).
  • Show Within a Show: Robbin' Hood
  • Skewed Priorities: Downplayed in that Cioffi is actively working to solve the murder, but he frequently takes breaks to help the cast and crew improve the show.
  • Sour Outside, Sad Inside: Aaron has a very surly disposition, but because he's still in love with Georgia and can't bear seeing her with Bobby.
  • Speak Ill of the Dead: No one is particularly sad about Jessica's death. Belling in particular uses it as an excuse to constantly snark about her (lack of) talent.
  • Stage Mom: Double subverted. Carmen is distant to Bambi and openly dismissive about her talent. It's then revealed she's doing this on purpose, to make sure Bambi will never be accused of getting where she is through nepotism.
  • Stalker with a Crush: The murderer.
  • Stepford Smiler: Cioffi is a bit of one. Namely that he's bored with the grind of his police work and his love of musicals is a temporary escape for him.
  • Still Got It: Despite having not performed in years and struggling during practice, Georgia is able to give an outstanding performance during her first dress rehearsal for Robbin' Hood.
  • Stock Rhymes: Discussed when Aaron shows Cioffi how a song is written. He says that ending a line with "love" should be avoided since the only rhymes are cliches like "push comes to shove" and "thinking of".
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: "A Tough Act To Follow", the most "musical-ish" of the songs, is being imagined by both Niki and Cioffi at the same time.
  • Stylistic Suck: The first song, "Wide Open Spaces", is a cheesy parody of Western musicals hampered even further by Jessica's bad acting.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Well, one of them. And kind of in a weird way.
  • Taking the Heat: Aaron claims that he's the murderer when Georgia is accused by Cioffi, which turns out to be staged to see how he'd react.
  • That Reminds Me of a Song: Lampshaded by Aaron in "I Miss the Music"
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Bobby at the end. He loses Gerogia and gets injured to the point he can't perform in the show, but he's last seen walking off and chatting with Bambi, implying they will get together.
  • The Knights Who Say "Squee!": Cioffi, despite being a police detective, gushes at all the actors and the writers when he first enters the scene.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: What actually happened at the Noodle Incident.
  • Took a Level in Idealism: The cast and crew for Robbin' Hood are initially unenthusiastic and bitter about the show (which is understandable since most of them were blackmailed into doing it) and are ecstatic when it seems it may be closing. When Cioffi arrives, he helps them rekindle their passion for musical theatre and improve the show, making them much happier.
  • Transparent Closet: The sexualities of most of the Robbin' Hood male cast members are pretty much an open secret.
  • "The Villain Sucks" Song: "He Did It" Subverted when it turns out none of the people suspected are actually the murderer.