I have to admit, I wondered—still wonder—what prompted a revival of, of all things, Closer Than Ever, the second of the two signature revues of songs by lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. and composer David Shire. The first was, of course, the prophetically titled Starting Here, Starting Now, which is the show that put them on the map, and was largely made up of songs from other shows they had written along the way, that never came to commercial fruition; whereas the songs in Closer Than Ever were mostly written for the unique purpose of being in that particular show…said show being about people whose start was a long time ago, who have crossed the divide from youthful adulthood into serious middle-age, with all the attendant joys and crises.
There’s a song for a guy who yearns to be so crazy in love again that he does reckless things; for a woman who is crazy in love and having a passionate affair but never gives a clue behind her strait-laced demeanor; for a husband in a terrific marriage who thinks about having a passionate affair every so often, but knows better because he’s protecting a deeper, richer life; for a woman looking back on her activist life and thinking with some sorrow but little regret of the marriages it has cost her…plus group songs about thematic things: the march of time that brings us in touch with the ravages of age and change; the joys and consequences of choice as we open doors that lead to more doors…and on and on and on.
The characters in these little portraits manage to be both wonderfully specific and a little…well, I was going to say “generic at the same time,” but that’s not strictly speaking true, or they’d be far less interesting. What they are, tacitly, is the musical equivalent of A.R. Gurney’s stable of WASP characters—not quite so culturally particularized, but just as certainly (if tacitly) upscale, non-ethnic America. (Oh, you could swap in an actor of color and it wouldn’t hurt the show at all, there’s enough universality to cushion the change; but then the actor would be selling the stable of characters in his track as similarly upscale; and tacitly unconnected to their own ethnicity as a force.) But all that may go too deep.
Here’s the thing: by and large, the songs are splendid—both musically and lyrically they are witty, literate and heartfelt. They are performed by as good a quartet as the musical theatre has these days: George Dvorsky, Jenn Colella, Sal Viviano and Christiane Nöll. The musical direction is by a fellow who is himself an award-winning composer and librettist, Andrew Gerle (pronounced GEHR-lah); and the production, as it was 25 years ago, is directed with impeccable precision and taste by its co-author, Richard Maltby, Jr.
All of which makes the show a pleasure to re-encounter. Which I guess brings me full circle. Maybe the revival doesn’t need much more reason for being than that…
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