What’s a musical without a story, or characters?
Well, on Broadway they call it a “revue,” or a “bookless musical.”
You’d think it would be easier to do than a story musical — but it’s not. Something has to hold the show together, and it’s pretty much up to the songs … and the singers.
About those songs.
Richard Maltby Jr. (lyricist) and David Shire (composer) are both masters of this tricky genre. In fact, Maltby wrote the only two revues ever to win Tony Awards for Best Musical — Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1978) and Fosse (1999).
Closer Than Ever is a Maltby-Shire creation that’s become a minor classic. (It ran for 312 performances at the Cherry Lane Theatre, and was named Best Off-Broadway Musical in 1990). Closer‘s two dozen songs sound related, of course. They also share a theme — life and love in the adult world, the one you find yourself in as you reach your 30s, 40s and 50s.
There’s a song about dating; but it’s a wry lament, Dating Again. There are songs about divorce (There) and single parenting (The Bear, the Tiger, the Hamster and the Mole), about caring for your kids and your parents, and about looking back on a life half-finished (Life Story, If I Sing, Patterns, Fathers of Fathers).
The world of Closer Than Ever is far more shadowed and complex than we expected as we rushed out of school. Maltby’s witty, resonant lyrics and Shire’s complex, layered music make that painfully clear. They weave this world so well that you almost feel sure there are characters, and you know them, just not their names.
Which brings us to the singers.
Gabriel Kalomas, Sara Stuckey, Jessie Withers and David Zack are the four artists chosen to carry this production — and for two hours, with only a 20-minute break, they do. They cradle it, dance it, croon it, belt it and gently lay it down, backed by a grand piano (Corey Hirsch) and bass (Brenton Kossak).
All four are not only virtuoso singers, but accomplished actors. Despite the technical demands of Shire’s score, each is always telling a story, immersed in their character and moment. Withers is especially stunning: from her raucous The Bear … anthem, to her soft and sexy duet with Kossak in Back on Base, to her delicate Patterns, capturing the show in a single number.
The four also work wonderfully well together, listening closely to one another and their accompanists. Their ensemble numbers, some of Mozartean difficulty, are carried off with aplomb. (I should note that Hirsch, the company’s longtime musical director, handles a pair of songs deftly from the keyboard, including the Fathers… trio.)
Hats off to Good People Theater Company and producer/director Janet Miller for assembling a brilliant array of talents, finding the intimate venue at Hollywood Piano, and bringing Closer Than Ever to life in LA. Let’s do it again!
Closer Than Ever, by Richard MaltbyJr. and David Shire, directed by Janet Miller.
Presented by Good People Theater Company, at Hollywood Piano, 323 N. Front St., Burbank.