curtains.jpgLots of Broadway spectacles that promise “FUN!" amount to bloated, tuneless exercises in excess and enervation. So the New York premiere of Curtains, a murder-mystery musical comedy, serves as a rare example of all that can go right when a talented team of seasoned pros trust the time-tested basics of catchy songs, stellar dancing and breezy storytelling. And it’s a sign of how starved audiences are for solid musical theater that they roared with laughter at one-liners that were sometimes merely serviceable and exploded with applause after chorus numbers that would have been de rigueur for the Broadway of yesteryear.

Curtains is jubilant, colorful, atavistic musical theater; with a big, brassy score by John Kander; clever lyrics by the late Fred Ebb; breathtakingly bawdy dance numbers by choreographer Rob Ashford; and deft direction by Scott Ellis that keeps a lot of plates spinning at once. The story (originally conceived by the late Peter Stone) takes place backstage at a Boston theater in 1959, where an Oklahoma! knock-off called Robbin’ Hood has just opened with a dreadful performance by a talentless leading lady. When she drops dead during the curtain call, Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (David Hyde Pierce) takes charge and declares that cast and crew will be quarantined at the theater until he finds the killer. But Cioffi, a stage-struck star of Boston community theater, is as determined to fix Robbin’ Hood as he is to cracking the case.

The clever concept offers abundant room for all the talent involved to strut their spectacular stuff. Pierce is an irresistibly charming leading man who anchors Curtains with his character’s infectious zeal for show-biz. As the imperious, flamboyant director of Robbin’ Hood, Edward Hibbert (The Prestige) steals countless scenes with his withering bon mots. Debra Monk plays one of the producers with electric moxie and stops the show more than once with her magnificent singing. But in a show that stops itself over and over, Karen Ziemba stands out for her triumphant turn as lyricist-turned-leading lady Georgia Hendricks.

If it’s true they don’t make ‘em like they used to, this last exuberant collaboration between the great Kander and Ebb is the exception that proves the rule. Tickets for Curtains, at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre [302 W 45th St], may be purchased here.