Monday, July 23, 2012

theatre review CLOSER THAN EVER, Off Broadway, July 5

Musical revues aren't usually my cup of tea.  A series of songs with no story to combine them just doesn't work for me.  However, I've always been a fan of the cast recording of the 1989 Off Broadway review Closer Than Ever so I didn't want to miss the new production being staged at the York Theatre Company on the Upper East Side.  I guess the main difference between this review and most others is that the songs that Richard Maltby, Jr and David Shire have created are story songs that can easily stand alone but when combined together make the entire show into something actually greater than the sum of the individual songs.

Maltby and Shire have actually never had a hit together on Broadway.  They were behind Baby and Big, both of which had very short Broadway runs.  Now Maltby did conceive and direct another Broadway revue Ain't Misbehaven which he won a Tony for as well as directed Fosse and provided lyrics to Miss Saigon and Song and Dance and Shire has written many film scores including winning an Oscar for his song for the movie Norma Rae.  So, they have had successes individually but never together on Broadway.   Another revue of their songs Starting Here, Starting Now was successful and, like Closer Than Ever, both shows include some songs that were included in or cut from some of the various musicals they've written together.

The songs in this show cover the multiple aspects of normal, everyday life - but lives that have been lived, this isn't a show that a 20 year old would quite understand since most of the songs are self contained stories that show the changes that each character has experienced or the personal feelings they have, told from the perspective of various characters in their late 30's to early 50's.  The songs tells the stories of mostly middle aged people as they reflect back on the choices they made and also touch on various other issues like the struggles of working couples, divorce, unrequited love and how close friendships change over the years.  The various group numbers in the show allow for some excellent harmonies.  These include the opening number "Doors," "Next Time" and the closing title number.  Shire's music is varied yet bright and simple but still completely memorable while Maltby's lyrics are poignant and sophisticated.

George Dvorsky, Christiane Noll, Sal Viviano and Jenn Colella
The four member cast brings considerable skill, charm and life lessons to the various roles they portray.  While all four are excellent, it is the women who truly shine.  Jenn Colella who has unfortunately starred in a couple of Broadway flop musicals is the stand out here.  She has a rich, strong and clear voice and easily handles the comical, sexual and dramatic beats of the characters she plays. Her "Miss Byrd" is exceptional and her duet with the bass player, "Back on Bass" is pure sensual joy.  Christiane Noll gets the more serious songs and her take on both "Life Story" and "Patterns" are gorgeous and heartfelt, but she also gets to show her humorous side with the comical gem "The Bear, the Tiger, the Hamster and The Mole."   Together they both bring a lovely touch and considerable depth to the act two duet of "It's Never That Easy" and "I've Been Here Before."

George Dvorsky and Sal Viviano are the two men in the cast and while they both get plenty of time to show what they're capable of, the songs for the men, while good, aren't quite as exceptional as the ones for the women.  Still Dvorsky and Viviano add a nice heartfelt touch, skill and personality to "What Am I Doin?" "One of the Good Guys," "Father of Fathers," and "If I Sing."

Matlby directed the production and he does an exceptional job of creating various different playing spaces on the small stage.   There is very little repetition of the staging which when you only have four singers, a pianist and a bass player and a small space says a lot of the creativity of Maltby.  Of course since he is also the lyricist that gives him a slight edge on ensuring that his lyrics are staged the way he wants the story he wrote to be told.  The cast isn't mic'd and even though the space is small it sometimes still creates a slight problem in being able to hear them clearly, especially if they turn slightly away from where you're sitting. This is really my only downside to this lovely production.

The run has been extended again through August 25th, though Noll and Colella will only be with the production for a couple more weeks as they are both in the new Broadway musical Chaplin that begins performances on August 21.

A cast recording has been made and will be released shortly.  This production of Closer Than Ever is one not to be missed.

Official York Theatre Site

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