Singers prop up New Rep’s ‘Closer Than Ever’
WATERTOWN — Lyricist Richard Maltby Jr. is a storyteller, and he marries his stories to the music of David Shire in the musical revue “Closer Than Ever,” the opening production of the New Repertory Theatre’s 30th anniversary season.
Most of the 26 numbers in “Closer Than Ever” are mini-dramas, the vast majority about middle-age angst, and some are told more effectively than others.
There is a certain sameness to the songs — perhaps a fault more of Shire’s music than Maltby’s lyrics — but they are often rescued in the New Rep production by the skills of the quartet performing them — Leigh Barrett, who also directed, Kathy St. George, David Foley and Brian Richard Robinson — and the sterling accompaniment of pianist Jim Rice and bassist John Styklunas.
Barrett is perhaps the finest female voice in musical theater in the area over the last decade, lovely to listen to even when she‘s deliberately singing off-key as she did in “Souvenir.” And while Barrett may have the superior set of pipes, no one in the area can put over a song — or a character in a song — like Kathy St. George, who has proved it time and again, whether it’s channeling Judy Garland, bemoaning middle age in “Menopause: The Musical” or portraying a lusty secretary in “9 to 5” at the North Shore Music Theatre.
The ladies tend to overshadow the males a bit here — they’re not the first two actors who have had scenes or duets stolen by Barrett and St. George — but all four have their moments.
St. George has a memorable rant in “You Wanna Be My Friend?” when her boyfriend, played by Foley, wants to “downsize” their relationship.
She also makes the tale of “Miss Byrd” a lusty recounting of illicit affairs.
Barrett’s voice is perfectly suited for songs about love and longing, including a stunning “Patterns,” from the Maltby-Shire musical “Baby.”
Robinson shines in “One of the Good Guys” and Foley has some nice moments with both Barrett and St. George and in the number “There is Something in a Wedding.”
Barrett and set designer Jon Savage have employed moveable door frames that allow for varied entrances and exits. Swivel chairs and other props allow other opportunities for the performers to move about, making the piece less static, and a variety of projections provided effective backdrops for different numbers.
In the end, while some of the numbers were engaging and spoke eloquently about issues that it would seem many in, say, Monday’s audience could relate to, you’re not always going to be able to both engage an audience and tell a story in three minutes. And therein lies the problem with “Closer Than Ever.”
The New Repertory Theatre production of “Closer Than Ever.” Music by David Shire, lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. Directed by Leigh Barrett. Set design by Jon Savage. Costumes by Miranda Giurleo. Sound by Michael Policare. Lights by Christopher Brusberg. Choreography by Ryan Began. Through Sept. 28 in the Charles Mosesian Theatre in the Arsenal Center for the Arts. Ticket price:$25-$60. http://www.newrep.org.