The simple, attractive set for Closer Than Ever features six white doors set within blue walls. One might expect a farce featuring slamming doors. While there are funny moments in Closer Than Ever, it's actually a musical revue by Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire. It was first staged in 1989 at the Cherry Lane Theatre, where it enjoyed a successful run. Now it's the final production in the York Theatre Company's series of classic Off Broadway musicals.
Maltby directs the revival, with help from associate director/choreographer Kurt Stamm. Their staging and choreography serves the songs well, accentuating the humor and heartbreak in Maltby's lyrics. It's a brisk, assured production in which the two-dozen songs (with music by Shire) go by quite quickly. There isn't a story, but certain themes do crop up more than once. The ups and downs of male-female relationships figure prominently. In "You Wanna Be My Friend," Jenn Colella and George Dvorsky sing about, well, trying to stay friends after having dated. Another act one highlight features the whole cast (Christiane Noll and Sal Viviano, along with Colella and Dvorsky) in "Dating Again," a fun look at the difficulty of connecting on a first date.
Other songs take on dieting, exercising, love affairs, friendships, aging, coping with modern life, and other subjects that were relevant in 1989 and are equally relevant today. Maltby has made a few updates, mentioning cellphones and DVRs, for instance, but most of his keenly observed lyrics don't need any updating.
The four cast members work hard without breaking a sweat. Their voices complement one another beautifully, and they produce lovely harmonies. If there's one standout it's Colella, who shines in all her numbers. She's terrific as "Miss Byrd," an office worker who apparently has a secret love life during her lunch hours. She looks and sounds sexy in the jazzy "Back on Base," in which she flirts with the bassist (Alan Stevens Hewitt or Danny Weller, alternating performances). Music director and pianist Andrew Gerle works as hard as the singers. He even joins Dvorsky and Viviano on one of the men's highlights, "Fathers of Fathers." That stirring number is followed by a gorgeous duet by Colella and Noll, "It's Never Been Easy"/"I've Been Here Before." Noll is also in fine form in her solos, particularly the affecting "Life Story," in which she considers the choices she's made over the years.
All four actors have impressive Broadway, regional and Off Broadway credits. One of the best things about the York Theatre is that the singers aren't amplified. Even without microphones, these four talented singers have no trouble being heard in the intimate Saint Peter's theater.
Those who prefer book musicals may not be the ideal audience for Closer Than Ever, but musical theater aficionados will have a great time. For the record, James Morgan designed the simple set. Like the rest of this diverting revue, it isn't showy, but it's first-rate.