Closer Than Ever, an award-winning musical revue kicking off the new season at International City Theatre, consists of twenty-four songs in two acts with no book or specific characters. With music by David Shire and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr., the show explores the joys and angst of professional-class, apartment-dwelling New Yorkers as they navigate the vicissitudes of life. The songs range from the exhilaration of youth to the ever-accelerating onset of age. A quartet of excellent singers designated Man #1 (Adam von Almen), Woman #1 (Valerie Perri), Man #2 (Kevin Bailey) and Woman #2 (Katheryne Penny) sing with consummate skill of transitions, relationships, sexual and otherwise, and memories.
Each song – in solo, duet, trio or quartet – is its own little playlet expressing a common aspect of life. There is unrequited desire (“”She Loves Me Not”), obsession to the point of stalking (“What Am I Doin’?), and relationships the second time around (“Dating Again” and “Another Wedding Song”). The music is solid if unmemorable and the lyrics cunningly clever.
Closer Than Ever gets off to a slow start with “Doors,” a song that speaks to the transitions of life, then really kicks into gear with “You Wanna Be My Friend” (Kevin and Katheryne), in which a woman goes into a tirade at the suggestion from a lover that he wants to break up and just be “friends.” The show hums along nicely with a variety of songs, humorous, passionate and wistful.
Valerie Perri scores with a wry song that compares the relationship of men and women to the way things are in the animal kingdom, “The Bear, the Tiger, the Hamster and the Mole,” followed by Kevin’s amusingly anxious stew of male woes in “I’ll Get Up Tomorrow Morning.” Adam ruminates on how it is to be a faithful family man who stays the course in marriage despite the memory of a long passed moment of temptation in the wistful “One of the Good Guys.”
Humor is plentiful in Closer Than Ever. Katheryne Penny lights up the stage as an office worker with a secret sexual life in “Miss Byrd,” which includes ingenious choreography in a rolling office chair (kudos to director/choreographer Todd Neilson). In the hilarious “Fandango,” a pair of upwardly mobile parents (Adam and Katheryne), all set to go off to important professional engagements, squabble over who is going to take care of the baby.
Kevin Bailey is quite touching in “If I Sing,” an homage to the character’s musician father, a piano virtuoso. In the moving song “Patterns,” Valerie Perri sings with a sadness tinged with regret as she look back over the life of her character. And the best moment in the show came when bassist Brad Babinski left the side of excellent musical director/accompanist Gerald Sternbach to take center stage in the jazzy number, “Back on Base,” sung par excellence by Katheryne Penny.
Closer Than Ever makes for a pleasing evening of song performed by a wonderful cast. However, the scope of the show, focusing as it does on people of a certain class, loses the strived for universality and may limit its the appeal.
Closer Than Ever runs through March 6 at International Theatre in Long Beach.