Amanda Rose, Robert Newman, and company in Curtains
(© Bruce Bonnett Photography)
Amanda Rose, Robert Newman, and company in Curtains
(© Bruce Bonnett Photography)
Curtains, a love letter to whodunit murder mysteries and golden age musical comedy -- featuring one of the very last scores written by the legendary songwriting team of John Kander and Fred Ebb, --has now been ably revived by director Mark S. Hoebee in a handsome production at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse.

Set in 1959 at Boston's Colonial Theatre, where the Broadway-bound musical Robbin' Hood! is having a problematic out-of-town tryout, Curtains begins with leading lady Jessica Cranshaw (Happy McPartlin) collapsing right after taking her opening night bow. It turns out that Cranshaw was murdered - and most likely by someone involved with the show. In need of an outside hero, police detective Frank Cioffi (Robert Newman) arrives on the scene to figure out both who committed the murder -- and how to turn Robbin' Hood! into a smash hit.

The numerous personalities on hard include hard-as-nails producer Carmen Bernstein (Kim Zimmer); witty British director Christopher Belling (Ed Dixon); lyricist Georgia Hendricks (Helen Anker), who is unexpectedly called upon to replace Cranshaw as leading lady; composer Aaron Fox (Kevin Kern), who was formerly married to Georgia and still harbors romantic feelings for her; Nikki Harris (Amanda Rose), a sweet understudy who would make a perfect match for lonely Cioffi; Carmen's daughter Bambi Bernet (Anne Horak), who longs for a chance to jump out of the chorus and prove her talent; athletic dancer Bobby Pepper (David Elder); and harsh drama critic Daryl Grady (Aaron Galligan-Stierle). It takes quite a while to figure whodunit.

Robert Andrew Kovach's set design realistically conveys a workmanlike backstage area that is occasionally supplemented by painted flats during the show-within-a-show sequences of the western-themed Robbin' Hood!

Newman and Zimmer -- who co-starred on the now-defunct television soap opera Guiding Light for over two decades -- are the main audience attractions here. Newman has a congenial presence and earnestly conveys Cioffi's unbending love of musical theater, particularly in the upbeat anthem "Show People"; while Zimmer, who possesses a strong belting voice, captures Carmen's loud, rough-and-tough personality, all the while looking pretty glamorous.

Choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter serves up some very physical and spirited dancing, which ranges from an all-out hoedown during the Act One finale "Thataway!" to a Marge and Gower Champion-inspired soft shoe routine for Cioffi and Nikki in "A Tough Act to Follow." Fortunately, Elder, Anker, and Horak all manage to shine while performing Hunter's showstopper choreography.