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FHSU musical delivers energetic, solid performance

10/8/2012

Mixing elements of who-dun-it with a backstage musical production, "Curtains," performed by the Fort Hays State University Department of Music and Theatre the first weekend in October, delighted audiences as it opened the 2012-13 theater season.

Lt. Frank Cioffi, (L.J. Kemper), led the cast as a lone detective working to solve the murder of a talentless buxom leading lady on the set of a Broadway-bound musical in 1959. Kemper's impish facial expressions and lighter-than-air dancing skills bound the action together as the cast sang and danced its way through murder and mayhem.

Stage director Tomme Williams and music director Terry Crull led the cast of 24 through a solid performance of the play based on the book by Rupert Holmes, lyrics by Fred Ebb and music by John Kander.

This play-within-a-play put the energetic cast through its paces, as they moved from scene to scene with impeccable timing, backdrops floating into position. The smoke-filled backstage seemed a fitting set for the story, giving audience members a front row seat to a backstage drama.

Kemper's love interest Niki Harris (Hayley Funk) was suitably sweet, a vision of all things nice while the director of the play-within-the-play, Christopher Belling (Ryan Ross) was believably flamboyant, frantic and fun.

Colin Miller, who portrayed actor Bobby Pepper, showed a stage ease that connected his character almost effortlessly to the audience. Michael Ritzel as songwriter Aaron Fox, brought a brooding charm to the lush duets he shared with sparkling soprano Alexandra Hutchinson, his wife and lyricist/actress Georgia Hendricks.

Obnoxious but lovable, Rebecca Urban lent an exuberance to the part of Bambi Bernet, aspiring-dancer-singer-actress, humiliated onstage by her caustic and sometimes crude mother, Carmen Bernstein (Vanessa North).

The second act opened to a tense rendition of "He Did It," after another actor was found dead. The cast did a stellar job of spitting out the tune's percussive lyrics, as they snuck about in a strangely spooky makeshift dormitory.

Choreography by Colin Miller moved smoothly throughout the production and was particularly fun to watch during "Kansasland," a hootnanny square dance number, brightly splashed with costumes designed by Williams.

Next up for the FHSU Department of Music and Theatre will be the production "Almost, Maine," set for Nov. 15 to 18.

Dawne Leiker is a reporter at The Hays Daily News.