Though the team of Richard Maltby, Jr. (lyrics) and David Shire (music) hasn’t had much luck when it comes to book musicals (Baby and Big, despite their admirers, struggled through disappointing Broadway runs.) when it comes to Off-Broadway musical revues, the boys are two-time champs. Their 1970s hit, Starting Here, Starting Now, was topped in 1989 by a 300+ performance run of Closer Than Ever, which is now getting a sparkling revival at the York.
Like its predecessor, Closer Than Ever is an intimate revue; a bookless collection of sharp, witty and incisive songs that stress strong storytelling and vivid characters. Though no specific location is mentioned, in spirit and tone you might find yourself reminded of the late 80s/early 90s middle-class urban landscape (For our younger readers, think less Seinfeld reruns and more Mad About You reruns.) as the evening takes a hip, literate look at getting through being a grown-up, with a focus on the big events we expect to change our lives and the little events that unexpectedly do the same.
Directed by Maltby and with music direction by on-stage pianist Andrew Gerle, the brisk evening features four familiar musical theatre faces, all sporting fine voices and intelligent lyric interpreting skills.
Christiane Noll beautifully handles the show’s more introspective and dramatic moments with textured performances of “Life Story,” about a woman who fought in the trenches for gender equality, later to find doors slammed in her face by the younger women who owed her their chances to succeed, and “Patterns” (cut from Baby, but put back in when the show was revised), where a wife musses over the mundane routines putting stress on her marriage.
Jenn Colella is at her steamy best when flirting with bassist Danny Meyer in “Back On Base,” a vampy number about a woman finding the perfect antidote for her case of the drearies, and gets to stretch her generally underutilized comic chops in “Miss Byrd,” a song that reminds us that the ordinary person you see every day may be a tigress when she's out of her office cubical, and "You Wanna Be My Friend," an angry retort at a lover's attempt to let her down easy.
The richly-voiced George Dvorsky brings the evening to an emotional height with “If I Sing,” a son’s heartfelt tribute to the gifts he received from his musician dad, and is charmingly comic in “What Am I Doin’?,” where a would-be lover stops to consider if his actions constitute stalking.
Sal Viviano gives an endearing performance of “One Of The Good Guys,” where a happily married man ponders what he might have missed by turning down offers to be unfaithful, and in duet with Colella, “Another Wedding Song,” where a couple consider the special joys of second marriages. A terrific comic number, “Fandango,” has Viviano and Noll performing the morning dance of a married couple of corporate go-getters when the sitter cancels and each needs the other to watch the baby.
James Morgan’s set features numerous doors and a pretty blue sky with fluffy white clouds, indicative of an optimistic view of life’s numerous opportunities. The right door can always be closer than ever.
Photos by Carol Rosegg: Top: George Dvorsky, Christiane Noll, Sal Viviano and Jenn Colella; Bottom: Jenn Colella and Danny Meyer.
Posted on June 25, 2012 - by
About the Author: After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Citi Field pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.