Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

May 1, 2014

'Curtains' set to close at Niagara

Niagara Gazette — Curtains rise and curtains fall, but the “Curtains” that’s closing out Niagara University theater’s 50th season waves of triumph once and future. Friday’s show packed the Clune Theater, students in the throng cheering classmates as if at an athletic event.

Spoiler alert: A star who couldn’t act hurt if she were shot in the shoulder dies in the opening sequence, a “Noises Off” style catching the crime fore and aft. A detective arrives to quarantine the cast and pick a perp while patching the play-within-play, an “Oklahoma” spoof, better later than Sooner.

In a twist to enchant such troupes as Theatre in the Mist and Niagara Regional, the detective draws on his community theater experience, sort of like TV’s “Castle.” Then this lonely sleuth of “Coffee Shop Nights” gets a bit of a thing for the ingénue and discovers he’s “one of them.”

Theater stereotypes rule — the stage mother, the inept lead who does her best work horizontally, the conniving producers, the critic with an agenda, the flamboyant director played by Nathanial W. C. Higgins with a double order of relish, clearly the people’s choice. His reward, this delicious line: “those Catholics really know how to put on a show.”

Dan Urtz’s police lieutenant is an appealing amalgam of Astaire and Bogart. Kathleen Denecke reaps dividends with her bitter self-defense “It’s a Business.” Mark Pietruska’s maestro Sasha captured the crowd with his gleeful gloom. Marina Laurendi and Ashley Marie Demar win hearts individually and collectively as actresses of starry-eyed integrity.

And when she thinks nobody’s looking, Mackenzie Gildemeyer walks halfway across the stage on her hands. (Memo to Wallenda: Hire this girl!)

“Curtains” is the creation of Broadway showmen John Kander and Fred Ebb, intricately involved with NU theater. The playbill includes a long, heartfelt tribute to them, and to program founder Augustine Towey (1937-2012). While “Curtains” closes Sunday, the first 50 years are merely Act I.

Doug Smith has been reviewing theater on the Niagara Frontier since 1968.

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