NEW YORK—Here’s a tune-filled and emotionally rewarding musical that tickles and delights, warms the heart, and sometimes injects a bittersweet edge. The York Theatre Company is responsible for this first New York revival of Closer Than Ever, lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr., who also directed the production; music by David Shire.
Originally produced at downtown’s Cherry Lane Theatre in 1989 to critical raves and audience enthusiasm, the present production more than echoes its earlier success.
Closer deals with those events and relationships in one’s life that we all experience—love, friendship, regret, joy—but it is the superior talent and craftsmanship of the Maltby and Shire team that puts this show well above the level reached by many other shows of its type.
Of the cast of four, not enough can be said in praise. The performers are highly individualistic, bringing their own points of view to the particular song or more accurately, musical story, they are singing and telling. While there are numerous group numbers, each performer is given one or more solo showstoppers.
For example, although Jenn Colella initially shows us the façade of the proper, sedate secretary in Miss Byrd, the character soon lets us in on her heretofore hidden, passionate nature and her secret life. Colella, who has terrific bite and presence, also shines in You Wanna Be My Friend, in which she complains to her boyfriend that mere friendship is not what she has in mind, and inasmuch as her name is on the lease she will handle the problem.
Lovely Christiane Noll warmly delivers a moving Life Story, an involved and involving description of an entire marriage, which ends in divorce. Ending each stanza with the line “I’m not complaining,” the song’s conclusion of pained regret gives the lie to this cliché.
Sal Viviano in One of the Good Guys, demonstrates inner conflicts that may reside in the minds of people who seem to “have it all,” leaving the singer and audience in a state of bittersweet regret.
Patterns gives Noll the opportunity to display her gifts in the story of a woman who unexpectedly meets tragedy.
In If I Sing, George Dvorsky, in a rich baritone, displays an autobiographical segment of composer Shire’s relationship with his late musician father, who imparted his talents to his son. Powerful in its very simplicity, this song is arguably one of the evening’s most moving segments.
In Fandango, a two-career couple, played by Christiane and Sal, thrashes out the near-universal problems of who’s going to take the baby that day when each has important job requirements to fulfill.
Back on Base gives an opportunity for Jenn to have a playful interplay with bass player Danny Weller. Incidentally, the show’s accompaniment is supplied, but very effectively, by only two musicians, the bass player and pianist/music director Andrew Gerle.
There are other songs, making mention of weddings, friendship, and more. Maltby’s lyrics are witty and rich. (Incidentally, on If I Sing, composer Shire shares writing chores with Maltby.) Needless to say, Maltby’s direction is terrific, and not to be overlooked is Kurt Stamm’s choreography, whose work brings the singer-actors to their feet very skillfully.
Scenic design by James Morgan is spare and effective, featuring doors that figure in the show’s opening number, Doors.Nicole Wee’s costumes are both individualistic and meld into an effective whole.
Closer Than Ever makes for a delightful evening’s entertainment.
619 Lexington Avenue
Tickets: 212-935-5820 or www.yorktheatre.org
Running Time: 2 hours
Closes: July 14
Diana Barth writes and publishes “New Millennium,”an arts publication. For information: email@example.com.
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