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ESU Theatre Presents ‘Curtains: A Musical Whodunit’ for Homecoming Production

Emporia State University Theatre presents “Curtains,” written by Rupert Holmes with lyrics by Fred Ebb, and music by John Kander, as the 2022 Homecoming musical. Director of Theatre Dr. Pete Rydberg teams up with longtime choreographer partner Cindy Severt for this dance-filled comedy.

The show is a murder mystery, inside a musical, wrapped up in a savvy comedy. The story: It’s opening night for a new musical, but the leading lady has been murdered. Detective Frank Cioffi — a music theatre aficionado — is called in to investigate. Everyone is a suspect as the bodies begin to pile up. “Curtains” is packed with glorious tunes, show-stopping dance numbers, delightful characters,and was nominated for eight Tony Awards including Best Musical.

“I think there can be no better musical to shake off our collective “post-COVID blues” than “Curtains: The Musical Whodunit.” What audiences deserve is something big, something fun, something with all the bells and whistles – and Curtains fits that bill,” said Rydberg, director of the production.

The production, according to Rydberg, required calling in additional talent to stage the “mega-sized musical.”

“We are thrilled to have secured the skills of professionals from across the Midwest to bring this dance-and-spectacle filled musical to life.”

Guest artists for the production include Matt Mahr, an ESU 2019 alumni; Hank Osterhout; Cindy Severt and Lauren Smith Bearden.

Mahr, lighting designer, graduated from ESU with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Theatre in 2019. Since graduating, Mahr has worked with Glimmerglass Theater Festival, Santa Fe Opera, and the Kansas City Repertory Theatre. He is a current lighting design consultant for two Kansas City area high schools.

Native son Osterhout handles Sound Design and Engineering. Osterhout is the co-owner and operator of Altissimo Music Productions and co-founder and Executive Director of Kansas Free for Arts. He began his career in the music industry in 2005 as a touring songwriter and recording artist, which would later lead him into booking, promoting, band management, concert production, audio engineering and lighting design. He is an ESU alumni who earned his Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies degree in 2014 and his Masters of Business Administration in 2019.

Severt joins the creative team from Madison, Wisconsin, as production choreographer. With 11 “showtoppers” and incidental choreography appearing throughout the musical, Severt has been artist-in-residence since August. She has choreographed for Madison Ballet, Madison Opera, Madison College, theatre, film, fringe festivals and fashion shows. She is a frequent guest instructor for studios, schools, community organizations and has taught jazz and musical theatre for the University of Wisconsin, Madison Ballet and Minnesota Dance Theatre.

Costume Designer Smith Bearden, hailing from St. Louis, completes the quartet of guest artists working on the musical. She completed her MFA in Theatre with an emphasis in Costume Design and Technology at the University of Florida. She has served as the Costume Director for Winter Opera Saint Louis from 2020 until 2022 and works with colleges such as Missouri Baptist University and East Central College as a guest designer, theatre instructor, and director.

Visit for reservations or additional information or call the box office at (620) 341-5256 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays with any questions. The show runs approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Tickets are also available at the King Hall box office one hours before the show.

The ensemble cast is comprised of Logan Trask (Spring Hill), Brenna Welch (Derby), Ben Ziek (Emporia), Christine Pascoe (Overland Park), Maxwell Kays (Humboldt), Isabelle Nelson (Olathe), Ray Keady (Emporia), Austin Michaelis (Overbrook), Tristen Bruns (Lawrence), Allie Thomas (Emporia), Zeke Myers (Kansas City, Kansas), Hannah Johnson (Potwin), Sarah McDonald (Emporia), Kaitlyn Bartlett (Topeka), Lucas DeJesus (Emporia), Hudson Benjamin (Andover), Brennan Ryan (Emporia) and Penelope Speedie (Emporia).

The faculty production team includes Pete Rydberg (Director, Producer), Dr. Penelope Speedie (Music Director), Chris Lohkamp (Technical Director, Scene Shop Manager), Nic Wilson (Scenic Design) and Amanda Dura (Costume Shop Manager).

The student production team includes Choreographer Allie Thomas (Emporia), Stage Manager Erin McNeley-Phelps (Lenexa), Assistant Stage Manager Evie Johnson (Canton), Assistant Director Daniel Vazquez (Lenexa), Assistant Scenic Design and Props Mike Cooprider (Hutchinson), Assistant Costume Design Kathleen Martin (Kiowa) and First Hand Isabelle Nelson (Olathe).

Performances are Oct. 27, 28 and 29 at 7:30 p.m., and Oct. 30 at 2 p.m. in the Karl C. Bruder Theatre in King Hall, Emporia State University campus. Order tickets at