“Closer Than Ever” at the York Theatre Company in New York City

by Zander Opper

       “Closer Than Ever,” the altogether splendid, intelligent and intensely adult musical revue that is currently being revived Off-Broadway at the York Theatre Company, is one show that I have deep and personal feelings for.  Originally presented Off-Broadway in 1989, “Closer Than Ever” yielded an original cast recording that I must have played about a million times on my CD player.  It was around this time that I began to see my first Broadway musicals in New York, but, by the time I fell in love with “Closer Than Ever” on CD, the show had closed Off-Broadway and this musical revue seemed to be just a missed opportunity that I would never actually get to see onstage.

That is, until now.  As directed by Richard Maltby, Jr. (who also wrote the lyrics to the songs, with David Shire providing the music), this new revival is every bit as glorious as I would have hoped it to be.  With a talented cast of four—two men and two women—this show takes a viewer on quite an emotional journey, with songs that are truly touching and profound.  There is much humor here, as well as tears, and, although “Closer Than Ever” doesn’t contain a “story” per se (it is a collection of about two dozen songs, without any linking dialogue), it still must rank as one of the most richly satisfying and insightful shows currently playing in New York.

What makes “Closer Than Ever” so special is that just about every one of its songs is truly like a three-act play.  I’ll explain.  David Shire and Richard Maltby, Jr. have written songs that can’t just be performed as a series of Broadway “numbers”; as Maltby has been quoted as saying, these songs truly need to be “lived in.”  Consequently, one hangs on every word and it puts demands on the performers to dig deep and create characters within the space of a single song.  For example, there is a heartbreaking number called “One of the Good Guys” that details the mixed feelings of a happily married man who had a chance to have an adulterous fling, but resisted, and now wonders what his life would have been like if he had given in to the affair, instead of being “one of the good guys.”  Also, there is one song called, simply, “Life Story,” that chronicles a woman’s marriage and divorce, as well as how women’s liberation has affected her, what it is like to be a single mother, and the gnawing feeling that her life might have been better if she had “stayed” with her husband.  I must comment immediately that though the topics touched upon can sound “heavy,” these songs are as melodic, enjoyable, and beautifully written as anything written for the musical theatre.

The other aspect of the production that makes “Closer Than Ever” so outstanding is its quartet of performers, who all do complete justice to this collection of songs.  George Dvorsky, a wonderful performer, is, by turns, both deeply humorous and moving, as he needs to be.  The other male performer is the talented Sal Viviano, who does a great job in the aforementioned song, “One of the Good Guys.”  Not to be outdone, the two women also shine: Jacquelyn Piro Donovan does exquisite wonders with the touching “Life Story,” though she can be very funny, as well.  Julia Murney completes the quartet and is delicious in the number, “Miss Byrd,” about a woman who is much more sexual than she appears to be, though Murney can also turn serious and move one to tears in the gorgeous duet with Donavan near the end of the show, called “It’s Never That Easy”/”I’ve Been Here Before.”

There is so much rich material in “Closer Than Ever”—indeed, nearly every song is a winner—that it can leave a viewer enormously touched, but also intensely enlightened by the collective power of David Shire and Richard Maltby, Jr.’s songs.  These writers touch upon so many topics that have never been explored before and I must admit that seeing “Closer Than Ever” did even more for me personally: these same songs that I loved so much in my late teens affected me completely differently twenty years later.  “Closer Than Ever” is truly a beautifully done show in every way and, as such, deserves to be cherished.  For tickets, call (212) 935-5820 or go to http://www.yorktheatre.org.

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