LEWISTON – Niagara University Theatre will finish up its 50th anniversary season with a send-up of a backstage murder mystery with special ties to the school. It will present “Curtains” on selected days beginning Thursday through May 4 at the Leary Theatre in the Elizabeth Ann Clune Center for Theatre in Clet Hall.
Set in Boston in 1959, the musical is based on a book by Rupert Holmes, with lyrics by Fred Ebb and music by John Kander. Ebb and Kander became close friends of the late Brother Augustine Towey, who co-founded NU Theatre in 1964.
In fact, Sharon Watkinson, Niagara professor and chairwoman of the theater, recalled that Towey once managed a special feat through that important friendship.
“We had a convocation here on campus, and all of the original cast from ‘Curtains’ flew in for the day, including David Hyde Pierce and Deborah Monk, and the director, Scott Ellis,” she recalled. “It was a wonderful day, a glorious moment, and Brother Augustine was thrilled.”
The Broadway production was nominated for eight Tony Awards in 2007, and Pierce won for best performance by a leading actor in a musical.
Steve Braddock, director of NU Theatre, will direct this final production of the 2013-14 season, while associate professor Terri Filips Vaughan serves as choreographer and adjunct professor Ellie J. Seib oversees the music.
Braddock described the production as “a play within a play.”
“This is a big-book musical in the style of all the great ones, like ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘Guys and Dolls,’ with lots of really strong songs and dancing,” Braddock said.
The story involves a Boston opening of a new Broadway-bound musical, where the leading lady mysteriously dies on stage. A local detective, who is also a musical theater fan, tries to solve both the mystery and the show’s problems, while simultaneously courting the ingénue.
This is the first time the NU Theatre has staged this particular musical, and Braddock said it seemed a fitting tribute to the friendship formed between Brother Augustine and Kander and Ebb.
“This theater program started with Brother Augustine, and his legacy lives on through the work we do,” Braddock said. “We just hope we can live up to what he built here.”
Watkinson recalled first meeting Towey when she was a Niagara undergrad in 1964-65, when he joined the university faculty.
“He was never more at home than he was in rehearsals,” she said. “It was what he loved most. It was his life.”
Among his many accomplishments, Towey directed more than 150 plays at Niagara before his death in 2012.
And it was through theater that Towey developed lasting friendships with people like Kander and Ebb, and Charles Strouse, Broadway composer of “Annie” and “Bye, Bye Birdie,” Watkinson noted.
NU Theatre will present “Curtains” at 7 p.m. Thursday and May 1; and at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and May 2. In addition, 2 p.m. matinees will be presented Saturday and Sunday (with post-show discussion) and May 4.
For tickets, visit: http://theatre.niagara.edu or go to the box office in the lobby of the Elizabeth Ann Clune Center for Theatre, Clet Hall, 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday and one hour prior to curtain or call 286-8685. Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 for university employees, alumni, seniors and youth 21 and younger. Niagara students are admitted free.