REVIEW: "Closer Than Ever" — MNM Theatre Company, West Palm Beach

Updated: Dec 3, 2020

"A Sprightly, Scattered Look at Modern Times, It's Foibles and Heartbreaks"

DECEMBER 1, 2020—MNM Theatre Company presents “Closer Than Ever” —a one of a kind, musical theatre-film hybrid version of Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire's Award-Winning musical revue, streaming On Demand from November 27th through December 31st.

Ah, the joys of relationships for people of a certain age. Divorce, a return to dating, working out to keep gravity at bay, the prospect of spending the final years alone.

If this doesn’t sound like the stuff of musicals, then you’ve probably never seen one by Stephen Sondheim other than “Sweeney Todd.” And you’ve definitely not heard yet the four singers of the MNM Theatre Company, “Closer than Ever,” a quartet who can sing the proverbial phonebook. (Do they still make phonebooks?)

The production, staged and directed by Jonathan Van Dyke, stars Aaron Bower, Johnbarry Green, Shelley Keelor, and Elijah Word. Under Van Dyke’s direction, these weighty role-players unearth the fibrous and confusing landscape of modern relationships as they sort out their feelings in lyric and verse, warily reaching out to make a connection.

Marriage, dating, parenthood, sex. Each song is a short story in Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire’s winner of the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical. It opened in November 1989 after taking shape over the summer of that year at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts.

Lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. (“Miss Saigon,” “Fosse,” “Ring of Fire”) and composer David Shire (film scores include “The Conversation,” “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” “All The President's Men,” and parts of “Saturday Night Fever”), began working together as students at Yale University. Their shared credits include ”Baby” (1983), “Big” (1996) and “Take Flight” (2007). Maltby conceived and directed the only two musical revues to win the Tony Award for Best Musical: “Ain't Misbehavin'” (1978) and “Fosse” (1999). Shire won the Oscar for the theme song to Norma Rae, "It Goes Like It Goes," and was the pianist in the original productions of both “The Fantasticks” and “Funny Girl.”

Here, Maltby and Shire’s revue of songs offers a symptomatic gallery of contemporary people struggling with the usual dilemmas. Actually, there is more genuine drama in each Maltby and Shire song than in most of the portentous spectacles that are now born as Broadway musicals, and “Closer Than Ever” is an exhilarating reaffirmation that the American musical isn’t dead yet. The show is about people moving on, doors opening before you, and also doors closing behind you.

They're all here: men who can't commit to women, women who wish they could do without men, two-career couples who are too busy to stay home with the baby when the au pair gets sick. After spending an evening with them, however, they immediately fade, like faces we've encountered at a cocktail party and can only dimly remember the next day.

Largely based on true stories, and intertwined with insightful tales about love, security, happiness, and self-definition in an ever-changing world, universal truths are uncovered through charming melodies and smartly-crafted lyrics. It’s polished, witty, tuneful and many of the songs seem more like one-act plays, dealing with regret, anxiety and disappointment, both in love and career—and the persistent knowledge that, when you hit your 40s, half the sand of your life is at the bottom of the hourglass. Indeed, when the cast, in tandem, sings "I Wouldn't Go Back" at the close of the first act—an acknowledgment that the past, good and bad, has shaped one's present irrevocably—it seems almost impossible not to nod one's head in agreement, if not just sing along.