It had to happen eventually; I'm reviewing a play I've already reviewed (presented by a different theater company, of course). And you'll have to click here to find out how cool I think Rupert Holmes, who co-wrote Curtains, is, because I can't beat that horse again either.
Mesa Community College's current production of Curtains is full of lovely voices, comic bits that made me honk, and perhaps even better choreography and dancing than the one Phoenix Theatre put on in the fall of 2009. If it's sometimes a bit light on the acting, well, one gets what one pays for (I'm referring to salaries, not ticket prices, BTW). But I was happy I went, and I'm not often going to say that about seeing a play I've already seen, especially if I enjoyed it the first time.
I knew, through my well-placed feelers in the Valley stage world, that several artists were excited to have this show to work on this summer. There isn't a lot of theater here in July. I was, therefore, a little surprised and disappointed that the pit orchestra for MCC's Curtains simply blows. (And relatively few of the correct notes.) I've never prayed so hard for an overture to end just so that I'd have something else to listen to on top of the music.
After the play's action began, the unfortunately frequent underscoring of scenes not only sounded crappy but tended to drown out the less accomplished performers' dialogue. (That last kink is not the orchestra's fault, though; one can only play so softly.) It's just a shame, from an audience's point of view, that legit musicians tend to be expensive as well as scarce. Maybe all the really good student players are at camp.
Once Ashley Martinez has entered, though, it becomes easier to sublimate the horrid instrumentals. She is loud (in the best possible way), brassy, curvy, confident, and somehow simultaneously nuanced in her portrayal of producer Carmen Bernstein. (She was also all those things last year in Urinetown, when she was still in high school.) Director Patrick McChesney, a drama teacher at Tempe's Marcos de Niza High, apparently noticed what he had in Ms. Martinez and has wisely stayed in her orbit.
Martinez also looks dynamite here, as does most of the cast in Rebecca Willcox's faithful and artfully selected late-'50s designs. I did kind of feel for the members of the female chorus who are not part of the dance corps -- not only are their dresses downright frumpy (and not merely by comparison), but would it have killed anyone to pick up a two-dollar bag of faux pearls for them to wear in the dream sequence when each and every dancer sports a rhinestone freaking bib?
Speaking of the dance corps, keep an eye on Taissa Zveiter. She's a tiny ballerina, as visually captivating as Salma Hayek, and I would even go to a ballet to see her again.
Male lead Tyler Pounds, as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi, puts his inherent innocent quality that I enjoyed in Hale Centre Theatre's The Princess and the Pea to good use here, but his not-quite-grown acting chops still have a way to go. It's good to learn he can sing and dance charmingly, though, and I'm sure he has quite a future as long as he behaves himself (which is a valuable reminder, in general, for talented young male actors, who sometimes conclude that because they're in demand, they can get away with being less dependable. We talk. You can't).
Curtains continues through Saturday, July 24, at Theatre Outback at Mesa Community College, 1833 West Southern Avenue (the theater is accessible from the college's southernmost Dobson Road entrance, and it's on the south side of the campus, about halfway in). For tickets, $10 to 15, call 480-461-7170 or click here.
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