x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Abu Dhabi Choral Group stage Curtains at Brighton College

Curtains is a show-within-a-show comedy whodunnit that is playing at Brighton College in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

Abu Dhabi Choral group rehearsing of Curtains. Ravindranath K / The National
Abu Dhabi Choral group rehearsing of Curtains. Ravindranath K / The National

Life imitates art, sometimes in very strange ways. That’s what the Abu Dhabi Choral Group have been discovering as they rehearse for their spring show, Curtains, a whodunnit musical comedy set in a Boston theatre, to be staged at Brighton College this weekend.

It follows the theme of a show within a show – curtains are raised on the opening night of the musical Robbin’ Hood, a Wild West version of Robin Hood. But the leading lady, Jessica, suddenly dies as the curtain is closing. Enter Lieutenant Frank Cioffi, who tries to solve the mystery of who killed Jessica – and fix the show while he’s at it.

Drama all the way

The plot’s twists and turns aren’t limited to the stage; there has been plenty of real-life drama offstage, too.

To begin with, the murder mystery is based on a book by Peter Stone, who died in 2003 before he finished writing it. The man who was hired to rewrite it, Rupert Holmes, also died before the musical was completed.

Then, in Abu Dhabi, exactly two weeks before the opening night of the show, the leading lady Alana Barraj was called home to the United States due to a family emergency. Up stepped their assistant choreographer, the Filipino Melody Pino.

Pino, 29, works at a place that has it’s own share of thrills – Ferrari World.

“This week’s been a real rollercoaster ride for me,” she says with a laugh. “I found out the news on Thursday and didn’t get home from work until 9pm. Then I had a singing rehearsal on Friday. So I had seven hours to learn the part. I didn’t sleep at all that night.

“I already knew some of the dance moves, but not the lines. I just had to go in guns blazing. But we don’t know yet if it will be myself or Alana who appears on opening night, because Alana still isn’t back in Abu Dhabi.”

Local talent

The Scottish stage director Fiona Cross, 28, is an elementary schoolteacher by day. She isn’t fazed by the unexpected drama that has followed the show to the Gulf shores.

“Melody’s been an absolute trouper and she’s got a phenomenal voice. And it’s just such a hilarious show – I find myself rolling in the aisles at times. And to see the sheer talent we have in Abu Dhabi; I don’t think most people realise how talented people in this city are.”

An eclectic group

Abu Dhabi Choral Group, formed in 1977, is Abu Dhabi’s oldest musical group, with about 50 members, ranging from teenagers to those in their 60s from a wide range of nationalities and professions.

Some of the group are new to the stage, others are semi-professionals in their fields. The choreographer Leanne Sanderson has to her credit two seasons of Dancing with the Stars in Australia. Now a resident of Abu Dhabi, she teaches ballet and Pilates at Bodytree Studio.

And Paul Moore, who plays the flamboyant director of Robbin’ Hood, has been accepted to the New York Film Academy and will head to New York next year to be part of its musical theatre programme. He was the leading man in the Choral Group’s musical of last year, The Wedding Singer.

An ensemble piece

Music for Curtains is provided by a 10-piece band, which Cross says is made up of a selection of musicians they “roped in off the streets”, featuring drums, trombone, keyboards, saxophone, flute, clarinet, brass and piano.

“There are over 30 performers involved in this show in some way, so it’s a big cast,” says Cross. “We don’t refuse anyone, so we had open auditions at the start to place singers into sopranos or altos, then we held formal auditions for the lead characters. This show is a true ensemble piece. There are about 10 principal characters and, along with the chorus, they all have a lot of stage time. It gives everyone a chance to shine.”

• Curtains will be staged at Brighton College, Abu Dhabi, on Thursday, Friday and Monday at 8pm, with a matinee on Friday at 2pm. Tickets are Dh100 at the door and Dh80 when purchased in advance at Spinneys Khalidiyah Video Desk or by emailing abudhabichoralgrouptickets@gmail.com

artslife@thenational.ae