Originally published on The Reviews Hub
Awarded 2 1/2 stars – Piercing
As a self-described “bookless book musical”, Closer Than Ever is an apt choice for a low-lit café – candles grace the tables and a discerning audience sip wine and or/ coffee while listening to the four performers take centre stage. Originally written by Richard Maltby Jr. with music by David Shire, the songs replace any dialogue or storyline; the performance can best be described as a revue, a reflection upon some typical situations faced by the originators or their friends at a current point in their lives. As such, it has a fitting audience at The Pheasantry, one of Pizza Express’ live music restaurants. The friend-zone; marital stress; regrets around past choices made (or not made); all have a place in Closer Than Ever. One wonders whether the performers themselves are able to relate to these words, young and spritely as they are.
Written in the late 1980s, it is unsurprising that the creators seem to have drawn inspiration from the likes of Sondheim – flashes of Company styled counterpoint underlay adult-style themes in the group numbers Doors or I Wouldn’t Go Back. Major sevenths and chromatic harmonies reign supreme here as well and unfortunately the four performers are often not quite up to the challenge. When the harmonies are simpler then there is no problem, but each performer has some pitching issues that ultimately causes unintentional jarring against the complex parts written by Shire. Add to this the desire for each performer to belt out their part and vocally wrestle centre stage from one another’s grasp and the result is altogether uncomfortable. Nick Barstow’s inability to introduce dynamic into the backing music doesn’t help matters either.
The solo performances are somewhat more tolerable and contain snippets of genuine emotion. Wendy Carr’s softer soprano voice floats over the top line in Patterns and adds some welcome pathos; likewise Richard Carson’s introspective nostalgia in One of The Good Guys tells a touching story of a married man looking back at his life’s choices and wondering ‘What If?’. The more effective comedy performance lies with Nicholas Corre, whose tongue-in-cheek ‘Make Do and Mend’ attitude comes through with full force in I’ll Get Up Tomorrow Morning; it’s not a stretch to imagine him playing Leo Bloom opposite Nathan Lane’s Bialystock in The Producers (either the film or the Broadway musical). Emily Chesterton by comparison attempts similar but comes across more rigid – ironic considering that her jazz style of singing slips and slides over the notes as if they were coated in grease.
There is no denying that all four performers have talented vocal potential, indeed all four act through their songs as if brought up from birth to work in musical theatre. There is no questioning that Alexandra Da Silva’s movement coaching is absolutely tailored for the theatre as well, although a little more subtlety wouldn’t go amiss. All in all, the subtlety is what this showcase is missing; sitting through 90 minutes of performers jostling for the mic to be the loudest, musicians attacking every chord at forte or above and movement that leaves little to the imagination proves to be more of a headache than a triumph.
Music: David Shire
Lyrics: Richard Maltby Jr.
Musical Director: Nick Barstow
Reviewer: Daniel Perks
Runs until 27 April 2016 | Image: Richard Parnwell