BWW Review: CLOSER THAN EVER at White Plains Performing Arts Center
Something very intimate is going on at WPPAC that is truly encouraging to the theatre community of Westchester; a grown up musical that enables some local staples of the Westchester community to really cut loose. Closer than Ever is a musical revue in two acts that tells stories through songs about aging, divorce, feminism and various other life challenges. This is not the typical "bells and whistles" type of musical where strobe lights and the scenery moves. This is a musical where the songs and stories are the scenery; where the only musicians accompanying are a Double Bass and Piano.
I had the honor of seeing Closer Than Ever back in 1989, when it was workshopped at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. I remember being in my teens and thinking how moving the show was. I could not relate then, but I still was very involved and empathized. To my delight, the show moved Off-Broadway and became a cult hit among the "mature" crowd.
Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire have composed a score that is melodious, yet chromatically challenging. The singers must be aligned vocally and able to blend in the ensemble numbers with ease. Thankfully, the performers in this production were truly up to the challenge. The show is written for four different voices, so each performer has their own personality and vocal style.
John Treacy Egan directed the actors to fill the whole stage - which looks imposing for such a small-scale show. The scenic design by Brian Dudkiewicz gave multiple layers with two doors on the top level. The whole theme of the show is about doors opening and closing, so this was quite fitting. Kurt Kelly anchored the show musically by accompanying the cast on stage and keeping the ensembles tight.
Jennie Berkson as the high soprano performer gets a chance to be funny and heartbreaking at the same time. When she sings "Patterns" (a song originally in Matlby/Shire's show Baby), you can feel the pathos of a life that is not what she signed on for. Plus with impressive technique, she is able to chromatically sing the challenging phrasing in her other songs.
Katie Luekens Chan Chee gets the brassy alto part and then some! With a comfort on stage and a musicality that is effortless, she becomes the "Bass" part in "Back on Base" in her duet with Bassist Michael Goetz. Her energy is never too manic, for she gets the bawdy songs like "Ms. Byrd," which can lend itself to histrionics and over acting.
Vincent Digeronimo as the lighter voiced of the men has some beautiful reflective songs. His song "One of the Good Guys" captured the uncertainty of an indiscretion in his marriage with the responsibilities of being a husband and father. His vocal performance in that song was beautifully sung.
Steve Taylor rounded out the cast with full-bodied singing and a presence to ground the ensemble. The highlight was the trio containing Steve, Vincent and Music Director Kurt Kelly in the heartbreaking "Fathers of Fathers," with the voices weaving in and out of complex harmonies.
It is hopeful that this is a direction WPPAC takes in planning their future seasons. There is an audience for these types of shows and actors that would be embraced and celebrated. I hope they bring this show back again for an encore performance.