Based on the original book and concept by Peter Stone, the musical is a send-up of backstage murder mystery plots, set in 1959 Boston, Massachusetts and follows the fallout when the supremely untalented star of Robbin' Hood of the Old West is murdered during her opening night curtain call. Can a police detective/musical theatre fan save the show, solve the case, and maybe even find love before the show reopens, without getting killed himself?
Stone died in April 2003, leaving the book unfinished, and Holmes was hired to rewrite it. Ebb also died before the musical was completed. Curtains had its world premiere on July 25 2006 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. Local reviews were mixed but not discouraging, and the producers decided to transfer the show to Broadway.
After twenty-three previews, the Broadway production, directed by Scott Ellis and choreographed by Rob Ashford, opened on March 22 2007 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre to mixed reviews. The cast includes David Hyde Pierce, Debra Monk, Karen Ziemba, Edward Hibbert, and John Bolton (reprising the roles they played in LA), as well as Ernie Sabella. The musical garnered eight Tony Award nominations, with Hyde Pierce winning the award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical. Curtains closed on June 29, 2008.
The reviews of Robbin' Hood! are bad, and the show has lost its star. Divorced songwriting team Aaron Fox (composer) and Georgia Hendricks (lyricist), together with the show's naive financial backer, Oscar Shapiro, and Carmen Bernstein, the hard-bitten lady co-producer (with her philandering husband, Sidney), bemoan the situation ("What Kind of Man"). The show's flamboyant director, Christopher Belling, has an idea: Georgia can sing, and she used to act, and she knows the show perfectly. She would be a far better leading lady than Cranshaw was, although that is not saying much ("Thinking of Him"). It also appears that Georgia still has a thing for her old beau, choreographer/leading man Bobby Pepper.
News comes that Cranshaw is dead, and more than that, she has been murdered ("The Woman's Dead"). The entire company comes under suspicion, and Lt. Frank Cioffi of the Boston Police Department is called in to solve the homicide. He also had seen the show and loved it (except for Cranshaw). An amateur performer himself, he feels that "the show must go on." He enthusiastically helps Carmen bolster the morale of the cast ("Show People"). However, since Cranshaw was poisoned in the last minutes of the show and never left the stage thereafter, Cioffi believes that she must have been murdered by a member of the company. Also believing that the perpetrator is still in the building, Cioffi sequesters it. Sidney Bernstein, Carmen's husband, arrives from New York — at least he says he was there at the time of the murder. Other suspects include stage manager Johnny Harmon, ingénue Niki Harris, ambitious chorine Bambi Bernét, and the entire cast.
Cioffi is left alone with the winsome Niki, who understudied Jessica Cranshaw but was passed up for the leading role and is now covering for Georgia. The lieutenant is struck by Niki's charm and confides in her about his investigation and his lonely life, married to his job ("Coffee Shop Nights"). She seems to return his affection, so he hopes she is not the murderer. Carmen and Sidney Bernstein ask Boston Globe senior drama critic Daryl Grady to re-review the show with its new lead, and he reluctantly agrees. Director Belling works to restage a difficult production number, "In the Same Boat", and Cioffi suggests that the song needs to be rewritten. Composer Aaron Fox, alone with Cioffi, confesses that he still loves his ex-wife ("I Miss the Music"). Any doubt that Georgia can carry the show is removed by the dress rehearsal of the big saloon hall number "Thataway!" However, tragedy strikes again, as Sidney Bernstein is shot ("The Big Blackout").Act 2 The conductor turns to reveal that the gunshot was fatal ("The Man is Dead"). A makeshift dormitory has been set up on the stage of the still-sequestered Colonial Theatre. Each member of the company suspects the others ("He Did It"). Cioffi returns from the coroner's office, but he focuses his magnifying glass on whether the show will be ready for its re-opening. Aaron previews his new version of "In the Same Boat", but Cioffi is not yet satisfied with the product and has other advice for the show's creators.
Carmen's daughter, Bambi, an ambitious chorister, asks that a pas de deux be added for herself and Bobby. Carmen agrees, but she is no stage mother: her duty is to the box office ("It’s a Business"). Bambi does well at the rehearsal of the restaged "Kansasland". Just then, however, Bobby is shot offstage, although someone else may have been the target ("He Did It" (reprise)). As Cioffi works on solving all three murders, he finds clues pointing to Aaron and Georgia's reviving romance ("Thinking of Him"/"I Miss the Music" (reprise)).
Cioffi wishes that he could be Fred to Niki's Ginger ("A Tough Act to Follow"). But he realizes that she has shared a secret with stage manager Johnny. Johnny won't tell what it is, but Cioffi follows clues up into the theatre's flyspace high above the stage. He is struck with inspiration – and about how to best stage "In the Same Boat". Carmen praises Cioffi he is really one of the ("Show People" (reprise)). Unfortunately, however, Johnny has also been killed, and the body count is up to four, although Carmen escapes an attempt on her life.
The revised "Wide Open Spaces" and "A Tough Act to Follow" are hits, and Cioffi finally solves the case: the murderer of Cranshaw, Johnny, and almost Carmen, is the critic, Daryl Grady. He is Niki's old boyfriend and did not want her to move away to New York, so he decided he would do anything to stop the show. Sidney's murderer is Carmen, because she wants her daughter Bambi to move on to Broadway, but Sidney was going to close the show. Cioffi hopes to "solve" his romantic mystery after Robbin' Hood! moves on to Broadway.