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Closer Than Ever
With smart direction by Maltby the seemingly simple songs offer ironic observations about the complex and unpredictable concerns of grown-ups which prove to be much the same now as 20 years ago. Jenn Colella, George Dvorsky, Christiane Noll and San Viviano deliver 26 songs unplugged and without dialogue. With Kurt Stamm’s perky choreography, each is staged as a fully developed moment in a character’s life. After closing in on your goals, then what? Life changes, doors suddenly open and close. People cope with issues like the perils of “Dating Again,” the frustrations of child-care (“Fandango”), becoming the parent to their own parents (“Father of Fathers”) and growing old themselves (“The March of Time”).
Outstanding is Christiane Noll’s ( Ragtime, Jekyll & Hyde ) reflective “Life Story,” the woman who battled for women’s rights but is now a single mother struggling with doubts and fears, even wondering if leaving her marriage was a mistake. With a tinge of regret she affirms “But I’m not complaining.”
With understated honesty, Sal Viviano ( The Full Monty ) conveys a reflection of what it means to be a husband and father, a good provider and “One of the Good Guys.” Occasionally, however, he is teased by daydreams of what might have been. He admits, finally, that if you’re one of one of the good guys, the longing for a different road is part of the package. George Dvorsky ( The Scarlet Pimpernel ) scores in his passionate solo “If I Sing,” a heartfelt homage to his father who taught him all he knows about music and life.
With broad physical humor in “You Wanna Be My Friend,” Jenn Colella ( Urban Cowboy, High Fidelity ), tells off a clueless Dvorsky when he offers friendship that she’s on the prowl for a lover. The show’s funniest segment is Colella’s “Miss Byrd” about seemingly a single, dull receptionist. Who knew that just an hour ago she was writhing under the sheets with her lover in Apartment A? Colella, with comical flair and physical flexibility builds the humor and proves that “heard melodies are sweet but those unheard. . .ooo, wee!”
Maltby and Shire are both multiple award-winning songwriters and the original recording was quite successful. Maltby’s lyrics here are more clever than tear-provoking, tugging more at your brain than your heart. Shire has a gift for catchy melodies. He has lyrical ability as well, as proven in this revival’s, “Back on Bass,” Colella’s jazzy seduction number with bassist Danny Weller’s sly hint of a smile and sinuous bass riffs.
Lighted sensitively by Kirk Bookman, Jim Morgan’s bare blue stage, with a backdrop of billowy clouds, and six white doors for the performers’ exits and entrances, resembles a contemporary Manhattan apartment hallway. Trying to give each performer a distinctive quality, costume designer Nicole Wee uses body-fitting stretch fabrics for Colella’s lithe physique and conservative pantsuits for Noll’s traditional look. She suits up the men in casual jackets and bright shirts that offer a slight hint of a previous era. Pianist and music director Andrew Gerle and bass player Danny Weller are in black tie.
Sometimes the late ‘80’s seems like a different world, and in many ways it was. People, however, are still most affected by relationships and life’s changes and this inhabits the songs in Closer Than Ever. Though the production has hardly changed since 1989 I find even more to appreciate today in Maltby and Shire’s intelligent observations and solid songs than I did when I saw the original.
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