Sweet Respite: CTD’s Closer Than Ever

Sweet Respite: CTD’s Closer Than Ever
Contemporary Theatre of Dallas’ Sue Loncar introduces her company’s 2008 holiday show by exclaiming, “There’s not a Christmas song in it!’ Indeed, there is not one remotely “holiday-like” tune to be found, but plenty of reason for seasonal celebration. Closer Than Ever is a peppy musical revue in two acts with five voices, by lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. and composer David Shire. Not as widely known as Andrew Lloyd Webber or Stephen Sondheim, the Maltby/ Shire team has been creating successful musical theatre since their student days together at Yale in the 1960’s. Closer Than Ever won two Outer Critics Circle Award in 1989: Best Musical and Best Score. Maltby created and directed the only two musical revues to ever win “Best Musical” Tony Awards: Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1978, also Tony Award for Best Director) and Fosse (1999).

This revue offers no particularly memorable tunes, no opportunities for vocalists to display major talent or range, and somewhat dated and precious lyrics. The subject is LOVE: finding it, losing it, rediscovering it, reclaiming it, forswearing it, all from an 80’s perspective. Nothing new or scintillating. Still the show provides an enjoyable evening given the singing talent and the effective staging by director Rene Moreno.

A grand piano sits up stage, in front of backlit screens suggesting a modern skyline. The cast, mostly in casual cocktail attire, carries in needed props or chairs. Musical director/singer James McQuillen accompanies the twenty-one songs at the grand piano. The spare, sophisticated setting gives the performance a classy piano bar ambience, well suited to the style of music.

The ensemble includes Cameron McElyea, Paul Taylor, Mary Gilbreath Grim, Megan Kelly Bates and James McQuillen. Sometimes the singers’ voices don’t match the revue’s songs well. Individual voices are excellent; but performance technique conflicts with song style, and ranges sound occasionally pushed beyond comfort zones. Ensemble numbers are most effective throughout, with crisp harmonies and lively movement. Strongest performances come from Megan Kelly Bates in Act I, seated in a rolling chair in an imaginary office, singing “Miss Byrd”, an imaginative, humorous piece about a closet “hottie” on the prowl, and from Cameron McElyea in Act II.  He throws heart and soul with powerful interpretation into a poignantly reflective number, “The Good Guys”. He knows exactly how to sell a song with charming ease and sincerity.

Holiday seasons tend to be frenetic times with too many activities, pressures and expectations. Closer Than Ever offers musical theatre lovers the opportunity to pull back from the clamoring commercialization and dizzy social calendar to share a special, sweet evening with someone they could, or already do, love.

Closer Than Ever runs through December 28 at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas. Location: 5601 Sears St., Dallas, TX 75206 (one block west of lower Greenville, behind the former Arcadia Theatre).
Visit CTD’s website for tickets, directions, or call 214.828.0094: http://www.contemporarytheatreofdallas.com

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