photo: Craig Schwartz
There's plenty that already works in this backstage murder mystery musical which kicks off with the hilariously dreadful leading lady falling dead during her bows. A lot of gold is mined from the clever idea that the police lieutenant investigating the murder is an ardent musical theatre fan who devotes as much time to tinkering with the show as he does to solving the crime, and David Hyde Pierce is so affable and charming in the role that he might be walking away with that Tony thought previously to be pre-engraved for Raul Esparza. There's a colorful cast of characters besides and a solid cast to play them: Debra Monk is a hoot and a half as a ballsy, tough-talking Broadway producer who celebrates not the art but the business of theatre in the show's best number, and Noah Racey is a certifiable dancing demon as the show within the show's leading man. Okay, so the Kander and Ebb score (augmented by Rupert Holmes) is a mixed bag but it can pass, especially when showcased as it is here with nifty choreography and musical stagings that build the numbers to crowd-pleasing heights. What doesn't pass so easily is the book, which too often asks the performers to wring laughs out of thin air. There are changes going into the show on Thursday and if the theatre gods are smiling they will include a trim of the first act, sharper jokes to punch up the book throughout, and more attention to the whodunit plot. The potential is here for a big fat Broadway hit. Smile, theatre gods, please?