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Theatre / Curtains

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We're a special kind of people known as: show people!
We live in a world of our own!
Our days are tied to curtains, they rise and they fall
We're born every night at half-hour call!
"Show People"

Curtains is a 2007 musical-murder-mystery-comedy, written by John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Rupert Holmes.

The show is set in 1959 Boston, where a troupe of actors is trying out a musical called Robbin' Hood. During the opening night curtain call, the extremely untalented star, Jessica Cranshaw, drops dead. Lieutenant Frank Cioffi - a homicide detective and a massive fan of musical theatre - is sent to the theater to investigate what has been determined to be a murder, declaring no one is allowed to leave the building until he can solve the crime.

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 role. Cioffi takes a liking to Jessica's understudy, Niki, despite the fact that evidence starts pointing towards her. Other suspects include the flamboyant director, Christopher Belling, theater critic Daryl Grady, Carmen's shady husband, Sidney, 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, who seems to know everybody's secrets.

The show was nominated for eight Tony Awards when it ran on Broadway, winning one for David Hyde Pierce's performance as Cioffi.

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.
  • 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.
  • Affectionate Parody: Robbin' Hood is one of Golden Age musicals like Oklahoma!, while the show as a whole is one of backstage comedies like Noises Off.
  • 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 and families.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Belling. Or at the very least Camp Straight.
  • 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 although Carmen loves her daughter as much as, or more than, she loves money.
  • 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?
  • Ascended Fanboy: Cioffi's a big one, seeing as he helps fix the show and gets to play Rob Hood in the finale when Bobby is too badly injured to go on.
  • Asshole Victim: Jessica. And Sidney even more so.
  • Batman Gambit: In order to figure out why Aaron and Georgia signed on for the show despite not being blackmailed by Sid, and to see if Aaron still has feelings for Georgia, Cioffi pretends to arrest Georgia on suspicion of committing the murders, which causes Aaron to try and take the fall in her place and reveal that he only agreed to work on the show because he knew Georgia would be there.
  • 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, Bobby who 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 Daryl 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 an injured 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, a rather gifted 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 the orchestra pit, but it turns out to be just Belling 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 dead.
  • 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 critic. Daryl Grady is one himself, and is later revealed to be behind the murders of Jessica and Johnny.
  • 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," and "In the Same Boat Completed."
    • Justified with a few of the numbers, as "Wide Open Spaces," "Thataway!", "Kansasland," and "In The Same Boat" are actually songs from the Show Within a Show.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Carmen and Belling, although everyone in the cast has their moments.
  • Death by Woman Scorned: Sid constantly 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. Crosses over with Mama Bear given Carmen’s true motives for hanging him.
  • Divorce Is Temporary: Georgia and Aaron used to be married, but 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 reveal the identity of the murderer, or murderers, as it happens, 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 couldn't 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 its senior theater critic, Daryl Grady, who is the culprit behind Johnny and Jessica's murders.
  • 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 every one of you!
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Subverted: Cioffi shouts "That's it! I've solved it!" while he, Belling, and Niki are up in the rafters, but it turns out he means that he's figured out how to improve one of the show's musical numbers; he doesn't figure out who the murderer is until a few scenes later.
  • Exact Words: There's a moment late in the show where the cast thinks the killer is about to strike again, and Bambi screams "somebody, do something fast!" The orchestra then tears into an up-tempo instrumental number while Bambi tries to tell them that isn't what she meant. The piece they play is listed in the score as, you guessed it, "Something Fast."
  • 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. The script even notes that Cioffi managed to shave 25 minutes off the show's run time through his investigation.
  • 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 Daryl Grady, despite the fact his image has never been published.
    • During the murderer's Motive Rant, they mention everything they did to kill Jessica and Johnny. They never say anything about Sid.
    • In their first encounter, Cioffi says he's arresting Grady for the crime of murder, then reveals he was just reciting lines from one of his past roles to mess with him. As it turns out, Cioffi was right on the money.
  • 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.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Cioffi is very humble about his acting abilities, even though two of his past roles - Billy Bigelow in Carousel and Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream - are some of the most coveted in their respective fields. And when he has to put his talents to use, he manages to fool Aaron into revealing his motives for joining the production and trick Grady, who was holding Niki at knifepoint, into trading his knife for an empty gun. He even manages to step in for an injured Bobby at that evening's performance without missing a step.
  • 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, she has a strong appreciation for theater as an artform, and her solo 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: "A Tough Act To Follow"
  • Incoming Ham: Both Belling and Sidney are heard yelling offstage before they're properly seen, and the two of them are prone to bluster, to put it mildly.
  • The Ingenue: Niki, with a generous helping of The Ditz and Cloudcuckoolander on the side.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Cioffi catches Georgia with this when she refers to a death threat that only Niki and Jessica had seen. Subverted in that the whole thing was staged to trick Aaron into revealing his motives for joining the production.
  • Innocent Innuendo: When Cioffi is introducing himself to the company of Robbin' Hood and mentions that he's done some acting, he says that "in A Midsummer Night's Dream, my Bottom was very well-received!"
  • Ironic Echo: When Cioffi calls out Daryl Grady's review of Robbin' Hood, Grady responds that Cioffi just doesn't know how to judge acting. Cioffi then says he'll be arresting Grady under suspicion of murder, before revealing that he was just reciting lines from one of his old acting jobs and saying, "maybe you don't know how to judge acting, Mr. Grady." This scene is mirrored in the climax, where Cioffi defuses a hostage crisis by tricking Grady, who really is the murderer, into taking an empty gun.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Bobby towards Georgia.
  • "I Want" Song: "Thinking of Him" is a Show Within the Show example for Madam Marian.
  • 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 Christopher Belling. Sid Bernstein can also be a large ham if required.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    • "Thataway!" is the final song in Act One for both Robbin' Hood and Curtains, and after the dress rehearsal performance, Cioffi says that the song is "sure to leave the audience champing at the bit for act two!"
    • After "A Tough Act to Follow," Cioffi comments on what a coincidence it was that he and Niki happened to have the exact same fantasy at the exact same time.
    • While they're up in the rafters, Niki mentions that a certain set piece drops in at the end of "In the Same Boat." Belling replies that there will never be an end to "In the Same Boat."
  • 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, as the culprit left the theater right after the bows.
  • Love Triangle: There's one between Aaron, Bobby, and Georgia. Or so it appears. In actuality, Bobby and Georgia had been pretending to have gotten back together all along to try and see if Aaron still cared for Georgia.
  • Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: "In the Same Boat Completed," which incorporates the entire cast and weaves together all three versions of "In the Same Boat" that the audience has heard throughout the show.
  • 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 in Robbin' Hood. First shown on opening night being delivered to Bobby, at the end of the play, it gains new meaning when Cioffi steps into the role of Rob Hood.
    Randy: You came to us as a stranger, rid this place of crime, and gave us all new hope in ourselves. That's gonna be one tough act to follow!
  • Meaningful Name: Elaine Bernstein's stage name is Bambi "because in the movie, Bambi's mother is shot to death by hunters."
  • Ms. Fanservice: Jessica Cranshaw.
  • Mood Whiplash: 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 of Robbin' Hood. Other songs have varying justifications from being Imagine Spots ("A Tough Act to Follow") to being improvised on the spot ("The Woman's Dead").
  • Nice Guy: Bobby, who seems to be the only person in the show that nobody (well, except Aaron) has a problem with.
  • 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."
  • No Reprise, Please: After Bobby gets shot, Niki appears onstage carrying the murderer's gunnote , and the cast and production team immediately assume she's guilty. They all begin to sing a reprise of "He Did It" before Cioffi tells them to stop it.
  • Only in It for the Money: Carmen Bernstein, in stark contrast to her daughter, Bambi. Though this is revealed to be a front to disguise why she actually backed the show.
  • Pair the Spares: It's implied for Bobby and Bambi.
  • Pep-Talk Song: "Show People."
  • 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. Johnny Harmon is one as well.
  • Recurring Riff: Aaron is constantly tinkering with "In the Same Boat," the would-be Eleven O'Clock Number for Robbin' Hood. We hear three different iterations of the song before Cioffi figures out how to make it work.
  • 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).
  • Red Herring: Played for Laughs. Throughout the show, Niki 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 this because of his crush on her, making her look more suspicious to the audience. It turns out to be Niki's Stalker with a Crush trying to keep her from leaving him.
  • Rousing Speech: Cioffi is fond of these, giving them during "Show People" and before the opening curtain of Robbin' Hood in the finale.
  • Rule of Three: There are three moments in the show in which someone dressed in Rob Hood's costume dramatically unmasks themselves. In the first, it's Bobby, on opening night of the show; in the second, it's Grady, the culprit behind Jessica and Johnny's deaths; and in the third, it's Cioffi, who fills in for Bobby when he can't go on after being attacked by Grady.
  • Running Gag: Whenever Cioffi and Niki have a tender moment, Cioffi asks if he can walk her home. Niki then reminds him he's sequestered the entire cast, much to Cioffi's frustration.
    • Niki finding a piece of evidence and realizing that she's now covered it in her fingerprints.
  • 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."
    • Bambi also calls the dance number she's working on with Bobby "a pas de deux, for two!"
  • 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 iconic "Willkommen" vamp is played by Aaron.
    • 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).
  • The Show Must Go On: "Show People" is Carmen's attempt to convince the cast of Robbin' Hood to press on after Jessica's murder. It doesn't take until Cioffi joins in.
  • 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. Justified by his being a talented amateur actor.
    • During "He Did It," when Aaron and Bobby are asked if they can't sleep, they reply, "knowing that somebody in this company is a killer?" Meanwhile, when Belling is asked, he replies, "knowing that somebody in this company is going to change my blocking?"
  • Something Else Also Rises: From "Thataway!":
    Cowboys: What's that music?
    What's that dance?
    What's that stirring
    In my pants?
  • Sour Outside, Sad Inside: Aaron has a very surly disposition, but it's only 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. There are even fewer tears shed over Sidney, to the point where Carmen is more upset over Johnny not taking her breakfast order than she is about her husband's death. Justified in the latter case because Carmen killed him, albeit out of sympathetic motives.
  • 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. Though he loves his career, he's bored with the grind of his police work and his love of musicals serves as a temporary escape for him.
    Cioffi: But sometimes, I think
    At the end of the day
    When I've read the last burglar his rights
    That the life that I lead
    Is a little bit gray
    With its lunch counter mornings and coffee shop nights.
  • 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, at least. And kind of in a weird way.
  • Taking the Bullet: Bobby's shooting is revealed to be this, as the killer was actually trying to shoot Carmen.
  • 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.
  • Tempting Fate: Quite a few examples in the final stretch of the show:
    • While he's investigating in the rafters of the theater, Cioffi says, "Isn't it amazing how you can be completely stumped by something, and then all of a sudden, it hits you?" Seconds later, he's struck by a giant sandbag, which knocks him from the rafters and nearly kills him.
    • A few moments later, Oscar rhetorically asks who'll be the next person to be killed, right before a sandbag falls to the stage just a few feet from where he was standing.
    • And lastly, Grady asks if his life can get any worse when Cioffi has him at gunpoint. Carmen then opens the trapdoor he's standing on, causing him to fall under the stage and break his leg.
  • The Team Benefactor: Oscar Shapiro, a businessman from the Garment District of Boston and the sole investor of Robbin' Hood.
  • That Reminds Me of a Song: Lampshaded by Aaron in "I Miss the Music"
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Bobby loses Georgia 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 in the bridal suite at the Taft Hotel.
  • 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.
  • Torch Song: "I Miss the Music."
  • Transparent Closet: The sexualities of most of the Robbin' Hood male cast members are pretty much an open secret.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Bobby gets put through the wringer in Act Two: first, he winds up Taking the Bullet for Carmen during his big dance number, then he loses Georgia (though the two were never really back together), and finally, he gets knocked unconscious by Grady and is forced out of that evening's performance.
  • Triumphant Reprise: "Thinking of Him / I Miss the Music," which shows Aaron and Georgia's reconciliation, and "In the Same Boat Completed."
  • "The Villain Sucks" Song: "He Did It." Subverted when it turns out none of the people suspected are actually the murderer.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Aaron is cold towards his ex-wife, Georgia, and is vocally against her taking over the lead role after Jessica's murder, but he reveals to Cioffi that he's still in love with her, and confesses to the murders despite being innocent to prevent Georgia from taking the fall when it looks like Cioffi is about to arrest her.
  • Writer's Block: Aaron has been struggling with it ever since he and Georgia separated.