Sunday, July 15, 2012

Maltby & Shire's “Closer Than Ever” - Better Than Closer - it's Here!

By Judd Hollander
Photo by Carol Rosegg

The 1989 musical revue Closer Than Ever (lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr., music by David Shire, conceived by Richard Maltby Jr. and Steven Scott Smith), which looks at the ins and outs of relationships, their beginning, middle and possible endings, makes a welcome return to New York City with a somewhat updated production at the York Theatre Company.

More than simple songs, (the production is 99% musical numbers) just about every one of the pieces performed tells a story about the afore-mentioned subjects and people in crisis, bliss or transition because of it. If there's a through line here, it would be one of time and progression, with such issues as change, love, death, growing older and combinations of all of the above coming to the fore at different points. How the specific stories are emotionally presented depends on those performing the songs in question, the four member cast (Jenn Colella, George Dvorsky, Christiane Noll, Sal Viviano) mostly hitting all the right notes.

While the score of the show is simply wonderful to hear, since most of the songs were written over twenty years ago, there's often a slight feeling of things being just a bit out of date, coupled with an ever-present element of nostalgia, rather than something seemingly more on the cutting edge. In perhaps in recognition of this fact, some new songs have been added for this production, with at least one number being cut. Maltby and Shire have also updated a few things here and there, with a reference to Dan Quayle replaced by one of Glenn Beck, and a $50,000 salary mention changed to $90,000. At the same time, it's interesting to note that the issues raised and situations explored are pretty universal and could be taking place in just about any era or setting.

It's also worth noting that the slower and more somber pieces in Closer Than Ever have the stronger emotional effect, such as when Noll sings "Life Story" and "Patterns", both pieces showing the path a person's life has taken and how perhaps, with a little change things might have been quite different. In the same vein, Viviano powerfully delivers the angst-ridden "One of the Good Guys", about a man who has always done the right thing yet now sometimes finds he is more content than truly happy. Elsewhere, Dvorsky beautifully carries off "If I Sing", and he and Viviano do a wonderful job with "Fathers of Fathers," the former looking at life from son to father, and the latter looking from father to child.

Some of the faster numbers that come off well are "I'll Get Up Tomorrow Morning", sung by Dvorsky, a satirical look at a man pushed to the breaking point by numerous responsibilities; while Colella, Noll and Dvorsky have fun with the cute, if somewhat kitschy "Three Friends". Also worthy of mention is the opening number "Doors", the at times all-too-true "The March of Time", and "Back on Base", a somewhat risqué number featuring Colella and base player Danny Weller. It should also be noted that Weller, and piano player Andrew Gerle - who is also the show's music director, do a great job providing musical accompaniment for the production.

The four actors all do pretty well with the material, with each having numerous moments to shine, holding the audience's attention and belting out the numbers when it really counts. There were however, a few misfires in the show, including Viviano with "What Am I Doin'?", a number about lovesickness carried to the extreme. Done for comic effect, the piece might have resonated better with some more emotional shading. There was also "Miss Byrd", sung by Colella about a supposedly ordinary woman with a secret, with the actress not doing enough to really sell the two sides of the woman via the song.

Maltby handles the directing chores and for the most part does the job quite well, allowing for quick transitions between the songs and not letting any one story or number overstay its welcome. The one glaring exception being "There's Nothing Like It", a song about physical fitness, which unfortunately goes too far over the top more than once. Kurt Stamm does fine with the chorography, making good use of the stage playing area. The set by James Morgan, basically a lot of doors, are nice.

An enjoyable musical revue which has a surprisingly large amount to say, Maltby & Shire's Closer Than Ever may not hit a total home run, but still is a major game winner this summer theatre season.

Closer Than Ever

Featuring: Jenn Colella, George Dvorsky, Christiane Noll, Sal Viviano

Lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr.
Music by David Shire
Conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Steven Scott Smith
Scenic Design: James Morgan
Costume Design: Nicole Wee
Lighting Design: Kirk Bookman
Technical Design: Wyatt Kuether
Dance Captain: Jenn Colella
Associate Choreographer: Emily Morgan
Casting: Mungioli Theatricals: Arnold J. Mungioli, CSA
General Press Representative: O&M Co.
Marketing: Red Rising Marketing
Co-Directed by Steven Scott Smith
Assistant Stage Manager: Niki Armato
Production Stage Manager: Bernita Robinson
Additional Vocal Arrangements: Patrick Scott Brady
Music Direction/Piano: Andrew Gerle
Bass: Alan Stevens Hewitt; Danny Weller
Associate Direction: & Choreography: Kurt Stamm
Directed by Richard Maltby, Jr.

Presented by the York Theatre Company
St. Peter's Church

619 Lexington Avenue
Tickets: 212-935-5820
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission
Closes: August 25, 2012

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