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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Closer Than Ever
Bridewell Theatre. Autumn 2006

David Shire (music) and Richard Maltby Jr (lyrics) wrote a string of small-scale Off-Broadway musicals in the 1960s and 1970s, virtually creating the template for the genre, though ironically their biggest hit together was Starting Here Starting Now (1977), a plotless compilation of songs from their previous near-hits and near-flops. They went on to successful separate careers in theatre and film, reuniting in 1989 for this second compilation show.

The string of two dozen songs that comprises Closer Than Ever sets its theme with the opening number Doors, which suggests that there's a drama behind every apartment door. The rest of the songs are all mini-dramas with the common thread of thirty-somethings facing the unexpected complexities of life.

So a couple discover that they've drifted so far apart they can't find their way back to wherever the other is, a man comes to appreciate how much like his father he's become, inseparable school friends begin to separate, and so on.

The songs are all good without being great (a pretty good summation of Maltby and Shire), with the nearest thing to a real show-stopper being Life Story, in which a woman surveys and accepts the choices she's made, which says in three minutes what Wendy Wasserstein wrote whole plays about.

It's not just the string of wry or bittersweet looks at marriage that evokes the Sondheim-Furth musical Company. Several of the songs - You Want To Be My Friend, Go On, One Of The Good Guys, Three Friends, There and The March of Time - all sound very Sondheimish, like out-takes from Company or Merrily We Roll Along (I even spotted some Jonathan Tunick-style arrangements in there).

All that can really be said about this staging by Sherrill Gow for the Giudecca company is that it doesn't get in the way of the material. The absence of any continuity or context doesn't allow the four singers - Amanda Chennell, Jody Crosier, Karen Evans and Lincoln Stone - much chance to create the characterisations behind each song, and too many of them come across as soulless audition pieces.

The four do each get a chance to shine in one number or another, but also take turns demonstrating their difficulty in making their voices heard over a single piano when ten feet from the audience in a small room.

I am of the curmudgeonly generation that boringly bemoans over-amplification in musicals, and I certainly wouldn't want mics in this intimate space. But it is all too clear that singers are simply not being taught how to project any more.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Closer Than Ever - Bridewell 2006