Jason Manford on bringing award-winning musical comedy Curtains to Belfast

Comedian Jason Manford is starring in a brand-new production of the Tony Award-winning musical Curtains this week at Grand Opera House, Belfast. We caught up with Jason to quiz him about the show

Jason Manford (centre) as Frank Cioffi in Curtains. Picture by Richard Davenport

CAN you tell us a little about Curtains?

The show was a huge success on Broadway so it's really exciting to be bringing this new production to Belfast. It's a comedy musical 'whodunit?' and I play a detective, Frank Cioffi, who is obsessed with musicals.

When a murder happens in a theatre, he, along with the audience, turns up to discover who the killer is. It's written by Kander and Ebb who wrote Chicago and Cabaret, so the music is great and it's a hilarious script.

Did you know the show before coming on board?

I didn't know much, but as soon as I would mention it to friends in theatre they would say, "That's one of my favourite shows". It's a popular musical within the theatre community and I'm excited that we can share this love to cities all over the UK.

What appealed to you about taking on the role?

What I love about Frank is that he's such a sweet guy, even considering he's there to solve a murder. He loves theatre but hasn't had the chance to be on stage, and that's not dissimilar from how I started.

I came from a different world, coming from stand-up comedy and television,and was surrounded by these hugely talented actors and performers, so I can relate to that a bit. There's something in him that is just fun to play with as an actor.

How did you prepare for the role?

The first thing I had to do was adapt to the Boston accent. I've done New York a couple of times as I was Leo Bloom in The Producers and Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls so I know my way around a New York accent.

However, a Boston accent was a new challenge. We got to work with an accent coach, and I watched lots of videos and films set in Boston to get an ear for it. We've also got a few dance numbers, so I hit the gym to prepare for that.

Do you prefer performing in theatre to stand up comedy?

I just find that there are times when stand-up is number one, and there are times when it's theatre. With stand-up I'm starting with a blank page – I sit down and think about what I want to tell stories and jokes about, whereas with musicals somebody else is setting the parameters that I then get to explore and play in.

There's something quite exciting about that – someone saying here are the rules, a script, story, songs, and then you've got to use what you've got to collaborate with them, with what pre-exists. It's actually a really good discipline, and I've been able to use some of the skills I've learned in theatre and translate them to how I perform stand-up comedy.

What was your very first experience of musical theatre?

I remember being about nine or 10 at school, and I don't know how they got away with it, but they took us to see Sweeney Todd. It was quite an experience, and I remember thinking it was just brilliant. I was in every musical I could be at high school, whether it was my year group or not I would badger the teacher until they let me be a part of it somehow.

Then, when I got to university they didn't have a drama society, so I actually set one up at Salford University called Almost Famous. That's still going now and I get invited to stuff by them all the time which is really nice. I actually also wrote a couple of musicals myself when I was at uni.

Do you have a role you'd love to play?

Yeah, I'd like to play Jean Valjean in Les Misérables at some point. That feels like the ultimate aim.

Have you ever been given a piece of advice or some words of wisdom that have stuck with you?

I've had quite a bit actually over the years. I remember Peter Kay telling me when I first started stand-up that the rest of the country is working a 40-hour week at least, so just because you work in show business why should you be any different?

As a comic, if you wanted to, you could probably get away with working for 20 minutes a night, four nights a week – but he was a real inspiration to get me to say 'OK, what am I doing with the rest of my time?' He made me write a lot more and do a lot more.

I also remember doing Sweeney Todd and feeling really nervous around these incredible singers, dancers and actors. I said to Michael Ball that I feel like I'm winging it, that I'm on that TV show Faking It, and he said to me "darling, we're all on Faking It", which I thought was good advice as it reassured me we are all sort of winging it, to a point!

My dad always used to say to me "Your horizon should become your middle distance" so that you aim for things and, when you get there, you head on to the next thing. That's a great piece of advice.

Finally, what can audiences expect when they come and see Curtains?

They can expect great music from the team behind Cabaret and Chicago, a wonderful and talented cast, hilarious comedy, and you'll be questioning right the way through to the end – whodunit?!

:: Curtains is on now at Grand Opera House, Belfast, until Saturday November 23. See for showtimes and tickets

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