Review of Closer Than Ever 2014
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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Closer Than Ever
Jermyn Street Theatre  Spring 2014

Richard Maltby Jr (lyrics) and David Shire (music) were among the pioneers of small-scale Off-Broadway musicals in the 1960s and have had extensive careers since, working together or separately, Maltby largely as a director and Shire mainly in films. 

This 1989 collaboration is a plotless but themed medley of songs considering the point in life, roughly about age 40, when we are forced finally to acknowledge that we are grown-ups. 

Ranging from pensive to wryly comic, the songs face such realities as parenthood, wavering marriages, sagging bodies, re-entering the dating scene, re-evaluation of one's own parents and intimations of mortality. 

All in all, it's a lot of fun, with just enough in the way of sobering truths to anchor it and occasionally catch you up short with the emotional shock of recognition. 

Shire's music is first-rate Broadway pop, notable for not having a single echo of Stephen Sondheim, a significant accomplishment even in 1989. Maltby's lyrics are distinguished less by wit (though he does find occasion to rhyme Florida with horrider) or evocative imagery than by the inventive discovery of song material in unexpected places, like the ultimate break-up insult ('You Wanna Be My Friend?') or a comparison of human mating habits with those of animals ('The Bear, The Tiger, The Hamster And The Mole').

'She Loves Me Not' finds comedy in a trio of one-sided romances, 'Miss Byrd' explores the shocking secret life of a prim office worker, and 'Three Friends' follows bosom buddies through life until they have nothing in common beyond the belief that they're still friends.

Foremost among the more serious songs is 'If I Sing', Maltby's open love letter to his musician father, though there is much to move you in 'Life Story', the confession of a modern woman who has managed to have it all and isn't quite sure it was worth the effort, 'Father of Fathers', about the time of life when you're responsible for both the generations above and below you, and 'It's Never That Easy,' a mother's counsel to her bride daughter. 

If Maltby shares any characteristic with Sondheim, it is a fondness for catalogue songs. 'The Bear...' lists amorous animals, 'Something In A Wedding' itemises the potential joys and pains of marriage, and 'The March Of Time' summarises the whole show in a comic catalogue of the horrors of ageing. 

Directed by Richard Maltby and backed by two musicians, a cast of four – Graham Bickley, Sophie-Louise Dann, Arvid Larsen and Issy Van Randwyck – have fun with the comic numbers, keep things perking along and still find the real emotions lurking in almost every song. 

If at moments Closer Than Ever feels more like a cabaret act than a theatre piece, the tiny Jermyn Street theatre generates an intimacy and immediacy that could be lost in a bigger venue.

(Note: Closer Than Ever should not be confused with Starting Here Starting Now, another Maltby-Shire compilation show made up of selections from some of their early Off-Broadway musicals that was ironically more successful than any of the shows it drew from.)

Gerald Berkowitz


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Review -  Closer Than Ever - Jermyn Street Theatre 2014

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