Closer Than Ever
Music by David Shire; lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr; conceived by Steve Scott Smith
Given the current trend in dramas to navel-gaze at relationships that have reached the middle-age mark (TV's Life Begins and the Oscar-winning film Sideways to name but two), Giudecca have hit on a timely revival of Shire and Maltby's 1990 revue. The twenty-two songs performed here all deal with the pressures that modern life puts on relationships through the eyes of divorcees, struggling professional parents and friends who realise they have nothing in common.
If all that sounds heavy, it isn't. Richard Maltby's skill as a lyricist allows for plenty of wit and humour as well as pathos; while Shire's melodies can be uplifting as well as sad. The interesting thing about each song here is that it has a self-contained story as one would expect from Maltby, who is a Tony Award-winning director as well as a lyricist, while Shire won an Oscar for "It Goes like it Goes" from the film Norma Rae.
The four cast members had good voices that blended well together and the range of songs, from the quirky yet barbed 'Friends' to the bitter and ballsy "Life Story" gave them the opportunity to show off their skills. Jody Crosier, who has played Marius in Les Miserables handled some tricky songs with passion. The number "What am I doin'" depicts a stalker rather graphically going through his target's trash, but the desperation Crosier displayed elicited some sympathy and understanding from the audience. His resigned take on "I'm one of the Good Guys" about a man who thinks his life may have passed him by also hit home.
Amanda Chennell gave a heart-rending performance of the show's torch song "Life Story", about a woman who finds herself alone, a single mother, at the age of thirty-nine following a divorce. This is hard enough to bear, but what she can't stand is the patronising questions she gets from executives half her age who wonder what on earth she has done with her life. Chennell was not quite so assured with "The Bear, the Tiger, the Hamster and the Mole", a song with a similar theme though written with a lighter touch, asserting that motherhood is not a male concern and that women might be better off self-fertilising. She was slightly hesitant in bringing out the latent comedy.
Karen Evans performed "You want to be my Friend" with the rightful indignation of a woman who's just been told she is no longer needed as a lover, refusing outright to convert into a friend. She had more fun with "Miss Byrd", the classic male fantasy of the prim secretary with a passionate private life. Although she has a nice voice, at times there could have been more volume behind it.
The female characters come out of the revue rather better than the male ones. Whether this is Shire and Maltby's attempt to purge themselves of any relationship gaffes they may have made is anyone's guess. With this in mind Lincoln Stone drew the short straw by having to play the villain quite a few times. He dumps his girlfriend in "You want to be a Friend" and, while paying lip-service to equality, refuses to take part in solving the childcare crisis in "Fandango". He manages these parts very well but his real connection with the audience comes in the solo "If I sing", an adult man's tribute to his own father.
The combined work of Boston-trained director Sherrill Gow and Movement Director Kristina Nilles used the ample space in The Bridewell to good effect enabling the cast to give an impression of the various locations from a claustrophobic apartment to an intimate jazz club.
Musical director Alexander S Bermange did justice to the score which unusually uses only two instrument the double base and piano.
Laura Shimmen's costumes were simple but versatile allowing the women to shift easily from temptress to working mum and the men from stalker to harassed dad.
It's an evening that will no doubt provoke a few thoughts on the nature of relationships and it's a fine production from Giudecca who have specifically chosen the piece to showcase the acting talent.
Reviewer: Bronagh Taggart