CURTAINS Come to the New Topper Theatre
Villanova Theater presents Curtains: A Musical Whodunnit, with music and lyrics by Kander & Ebb, directed by Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, President of Villanova University, March 31-April 10. This production will pull out all the stops and christens the proscenium-style Topper Theater at the new John and Joan Mullen Center for the Performing Arts. With its melodious score, witty book and clever plot, Curtains blends Agatha Christie-like mysteries with the spectacular song and dance of Golden Age musicals, while all the theatrical bells and whistles are played out.
This musical extravaganza marks the first production at the new 400-seat Topper Theater since the completion of the Joan and John Mullen Center for the Performing Arts in 2019, as well as the return of University President Father Peter Donohue as director for the Villanova Theater for the first time since The Drowsy Chaperones in 2012. Eager to utilize all the production and technology capabilities of the $60 million performing arts center, Father Donohue has encouraged designers to utilize the improved resources of the new set and costume shops, as well as the complete fly and rigging system of the use furniture to create the world of Curtains and its tongue-in-cheek Western-style show-in-a-show. The John and Joan Mullen Center for the Performing Arts and its crown jewel, the Topper Theater, have been funded by six donations totaling at least $1 million, including two donations totaling $20 million.
A love letter to the golden age of musical theater, Curtains is set in 1959, and the mysterious death of a Broadway show’s leading lady makes everyone – onstage and backstage – potential suspects. Enter Detective Frank Cioffi, a stage addict who sniffs out clues while putting on tap shoes. Rev. David Cregan, OSA, PhD, associate dean for academic affairs and strategic initiatives at the College of Professional Studies and longtime professor at the Department of Theater, will take on the lead role of Cioffi, the determined homicide detective determined to solve both assassination and rehabilitating the show in time for its Broadway opening.
He is joined by a cast of current graduate and undergraduate students, alumni, faculty and staff, including campus minister Meghan Dietzler as the bright-eyed, naïve Niki and current graduate students Erin Coffman and Brian Jacko as the composer-lyricist duo whose shared profession it is and married life are both on the rocks.
Rev. David Cregan, OSA, PhD rehearses as Detective Frank Cioffi. Photo by John Shetron.
The ensemble is rehearsing “Wide Open Spaces”. Photo by John Shetron.
Curtains is the final complete musical from the pre-eminent 20th century composer duo, John Kander and Fred Ebb, the musical minds behind the mega-hit Cabaret and Chicago. This musical crime thriller had a long journey from conception to production, beginning in the 1990s with original book author Peter Stone (1776, Titanic). Following the deaths of Stone and Ebb (2003 and 2004 respectively), songwriter and playwright Rupert Holmes (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) joined Kander to complete the show, which eventually reached Broadway in 2006. Throughout their decade-long collaboration, Kander and Ebb were notoriously companionable and selfless collaborators, with Ebb noting that “when we wrote together, we became a third person that I think you could call Kander & Ebb.” This spirit of collaboration and joy is evident in Villanova Theater’s latest production.
“It has been incredibly fun to return to the stage for the first time since 2012, and especially to be able to stage the first musical in the spectacular new Topper Theater,” said Rev. Peter M. Donohue, President of Villanova University and Curtains Director .
As department head from 1992 to 2006, he directed campus musical theater productions annually and received six Barrymore Award nominations and a Barrymore Award for Outstanding Directing of a Musical from the Theater Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. Father Donohue last directed the 2012 Philadelphia premiere of the hit musical comedy The Drowsy Chaperone at the Villanova Theater and Curtains is only the second musical he has directed since taking on the role of university president in 2006. Students, faculty, staff and audiences alike look forward to seeing his magic work at the new performing arts center, which will no doubt be remembered as a momentous achievement in his legacy.
Alison Hyde Pascale (ensemble) and Erin Coffman (Georgia). Photo by John Shetron.
Dramaturg Nic Ecker and music director Peter A. Hilliard. Photo by John Shetron.
Production dramatist Nichola Ecker, a sophomore, is particularly passionate about the way Curtains works as a love letter to theater — with his smiling obituary of Golden Age musicals, his tongue-in-cheek inside jokes for “show people,” and everyone Crowd of happy jazz hands from the ensemble. “After almost two years of dark theater and virtual performance, bringing this Valentine’s Day to the Broadway of yesteryear is a palpable joy,” says Ecker.
The set ‘Curtains’ will be the first ever built for the Topper Theatre, which has not previously held live theatrical events. The ambitious design is being carried out by Colin McIlvaine, a Barrymore nominee Philadelphia-based designer who holds an MFA from Temple University. The Villanova Theater’s scene shop, staffed by assistants and undergraduate students, eagerly turns McIlvaine’s multitude of designs into reality. In keeping with Father Donohue’s vision of recreating the look of a 1950s Broadway extravaganza, McIlvaine’s design includes multiple drop curtains, moving carriages, and two pairs of spotlights to create the effect of the audience seeing the stage from both the front and back .
Curtains’ costume designer, a 30-plus-year Villanova veteran and Barrymore Award winner Janus Stefanowicz, is more than up to the task of costumes for the 20 cast members, who each wear six to eight outfits during the show. Father Donohue’s directorial vision for the show – based as closely as possible on the 1950s – is realized in Stefanowicz’ designs. The designs involve creating costumes using the many resources available to the costume shop, including new cricket and embroidery machines, and sourcing vintage outfits to create a consistent mid-century look for all actors. The four graduate costumers and many other costume students look forward to working on a show of this magnitude, intended for a live audience, after almost two years of recorded performances.
The curtains run March 31-April 10, 2022 at the Topper Theater at the Joan and John Mullen Center for the Performing Arts. The Speaker’s Night, immediately following the performance on April 7, will include a Q&A session with director Father Peter Donohue, production dramaturg Nicholas Ecker, and special guest speaker theater department chair and musical theater scholar Valerie Joyce, PhD (see full biographical information below).
The Villanova Theater is located on the Villanova University campus in the John and Joan Mullen Center for the Performing Arts (on Lancaster and Ithan Avenues). Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Tickets range from $26 to $30, with discounts for students, seniors, MA grads, and groups. Tickets can be purchased online at www.villanovatheatre.org or by calling the box office at 610-519-7474.