Talented Quartet Entertains With ‘Closer Than Ever’ (4 Stars)

‘Closer Than Ever’ – Music by David Shire; Lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr.; Directed by Leigh Barrett; Musical Direction by Jim Rice. Presented by The New Repertory Theatre at 321 Arsenal St., Watertown through 9/28

The New Repertory Theatre in Watertown is celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, and kicking it off is a great production of the musical revue ‘Closer Than Ever’ that mostly works, despite the somewhat dated material.’Closer Than Ever’ is a collection of songs (some cut from shows, some stand-alone songs) by the composing team of lyricist Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire. It was originally produced at the Williamstown Theatre  Festival in 1989 and then Off- Broadway where it ran for 312 performances, and was revived Off-Broadway in 2012.

The songs in the show are connected only by subject matter or emotional content: there is no “linking” dialogue, the songs are performed as solos, duets, trios and quartets by four performers who shine individually and as a company.
By far, the standout performer is the petite (in size only) Kathy St. George. She raises the temperature in the room with her sexy “Ms Byrd”, and raises the roof with “Back On Base”, a duet with the bass player John Styklunas. He and music director Jim Rice provide the jazzy 2-person accompaniment, and Rice also sings a touching trio, “Fathers of Fathers”, with the two versatile men, Brian Richard Robinson and David Foley.
Director Leigh Barrett not only completes the quartet, she makes her professional directorial debut and comes out singing! The show moves fluidly, with a clear throughline, and Barrett joins the ranks of a few Boston performers who have successfully added “/Director” to their bios. There’s also a great duet featuring the two women, both divas in their own right.

The set is a collection of doors, which serve to illustrate the metaphor of the songs: the doors we enter, leave through, slam shut, and knock on. The production tries to update some of the material with a projection screen (that becomes a chat/text window, a slide announcing a TED Talk, and the backdrop to establish various locations), but it’s odd that the dated references in some of the songs weren’t tweaked to feel more contemporary. But that’s a minor gripe. With CLOSER THAN EVER, the New Rep enters it’s 30th season on a good note. For more info, go to: http://www.newrep.org/productions/closer-than-ever/