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Musical whodunit reunites enthusiastic cast, director

Curtains cast members rehearse the production’s opening number.
Ask anybody in the cast or crew about the Henrico Theatre Company’s upcoming production of Curtains and the response always includes the word "fun."

Director Amy Perdue can’t stress it enough. “This show is fun, fun, fun,” she said. “I have fun doing this every night,” she said of the five times a week rehearsals that began in March.

Curtains, a musical comedy whodunit, will be performed at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen May 6-22.

Perdue, Henrico County’s cultural arts coordinator, was captivated when she saw the show on Broadway a few years ago and was thrilled to have the chance to stage it in Henrico as part of the Henrico Theatre Company’s season. She assembled a cast of 24 local actors, a lively group that only adds to the spirit of the already-spirited play.

The cast might look familiar to some area theatergoers. More than a third of them appeared together last summer in Dogwood Dell’s production of “Pippin,” also directed by Perdue.

“The best part of this is getting to work with the same people,” said Dan Stackhouse, who plays Lt. Frank Cioffi of the Boston Police Department, one of the leads in Curtains.

“That’s a big reason I auditioned. I heard a lot of my fellow cast members [from Pippin] were auditioning.”

Just coincidence?

“No, it was Amy,” said Jim Morgan, who plays several roles in the show-within-a-show. “She’s incredible to work with and she makes this effortless.”

The backstage whodunit – where everyone in the cast and crew is a suspect – hardly is effortless, with big splashy musical numbers, numerous costume changes, an eight-piece orchestra and all the other logistics of such a show.

Despite the staggering work necessary to mount such a large production, the let’s-get-it-done atmosphere at rehearsals reflects the friendship of the cast and crew and their respect for their director.

“Amy’s a crazy fun lady,” said Morgan. “She trusts her people and everybody trusts her.”

Riley Shaia, who plays Bambi, said she loved rehearsals. “This is a great group of people. It has to be the most fun role I’ve ever played.

“And Amy is fabulous; I’d do anything for her.”

Though it only dates back to 2006, Curtains invokes the feeling of big splashy Broadway productions from decades past, said Perdue. “It’s so much a tribute to the big musicals of long ago, like ‘42nd Street’ and ‘State Fair.’

“It’s a valentine of sorts to those kinds of shows.”

Curtains, which earned eight Tony Award nominations on Broadway, is a musical within a musical, set in a Boston theater in 1959. The opening night performance of ‘Robbin’ Hood of the Old West’ ends with the talentless star’s murder. Lt. Frank Cioffi arrives to solve the mystery and finds himself drawn into the theater world and a zany cast of suspects.

Along with following the clues (and more murders), there’s plenty of singing and dancing. Musical numbers include “A Tough Act to Follow,” “Show People,” “Thataway” and “It’s a Business.” Perdue (herself a “chorus girl” in the past) choreographed the show.

The show’s music director Jimmy Hicks said Curtains was an important work in theater history, the final effort by the legendary musical team John Kander and Fred Ebb. His description of the show: “It’s fun.”

What’s happening backstage at The Cultural Arts Center shines through all the murder and mayhem on stage. Audiences will have fun, too.
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