The New Millennium Production Company, a collaborative summer theater program made up of students from all three Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District schools, will perform the musical whodunit "Curtains" at the Absegami High School Performing Arts Center on Aug. 10-12.
The scene is Boston's Colonial Theatre, 1959. A cast and crew polarized by jealousy and infighting, a shady producer and a dispassionate, faded starlet of a leading lady have a production of the new musical "Robbin' Hood" - a Western take on the classic tale - on life support.
The opening night murder of its untalented star, Jessica Crenshaw, and the series of deaths that follow it would seem to be the troubled production's end, but they may just lead to its salvation instead.
Absegami junior Gabrielle Hughes is the lead as "Robbin' Hood" co-writer Georgia Hendricks, who takes over for Crenshaw following her death. Hughes said the show's mix of humor and intrigue will keep audiences entranced.
"You're trying to guess throughout the whole show who the murderer is, so it keeps you awake during the whole show," Hughes said. "You're paying attention because you want to know who's killing everyone."
Michael Giovinco plays police Lt. Frank Cioffi, a theater buff and amateur actor and one of the few fans of the critically panned show.
As he investigates the crime, he becomes an unofficial member of the troop, romancing a member of the cast and and inspiring the company to make the production a success in spite of its troubles.
"The detective helps along with the show, trying to develop this trainwreck of a show into an actually watchable production," said Cedar Creek High School junior Craig Dilliplane, whose Detective O'Farrell aids in Cioffi's investigation.
The New Millennium Production Company was formed in 1999 by Superintendent Adam Pfeffer, who sought a way to unite the district's schools under one banner. It is the only district program that includes students from all three schools.
The company is open to rising ninth- to 12th-graders regardless of experience, and is headed by theater directors Chip Garrison (Absegami High School), Kim Tunney (Oakcrest High School) and Matt Ballistreri (Cedar Creek High School).
Garrison said the troupe is a boon for the district's thespians, as it allows them to develop relationships with other students who share their passion for theater.
"It's good for the kids because they get to see that there are kids at other schools that are just like them, that are in this case zany about the theater, love performing, and they widen their social circle a little bit," he said.
Because incoming freshman can participate in the program, it offers them a chance to make friends before the start of school, which Garrison said helps in the transition to high school.
Garrison said he and his colleagues at the district have developed a chemistry over the years that allows them to share duties and make the production more than the sum of its parts.
"Kim and I have been working together almost 10 years now, I think - 10 or 11 years we've been working together, so we really get to know each other well enough to know how we work, and Matt has kind of folded himself right in there. He fits right in," Garrison said.
"Curtains" opened on Broadway in March 2007 and played for a little more than a year. Though its reception was mostly warm and it earned several award nominations, it's little known compared with past New Millennium productions such as "Hairspray" and "A Chorus Line." Nonetheless, Hughes expects audiences will find it a memorable show.
"I think it's definitely not a show to miss, because this is probably going to be the first time people hear about 'Curtains,' and everybody who sees it, loves it," Hughes said. "It's a show to put in their showbook."
Contact Braden Campbell:
If you go
'Curtains,' presented by the New Millennium Production Company
7 p.m. Aug. 10-12
Absegami High School Performing Arts Center, 201 South Wrangleboro Road, Galloway Township
$12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors
Call 609-404-2061 or see absegami.net