While Rodgers and Hammerstein are the boys for Broadway blockbusters, and Kander and Ebb the masters of larger-than-life showbiz characters, Maltby and Shire are the undisputed champions of the urban character song cycle, with real people living real emotions, romantic ups and downs and everything in between.
Their collaboration on Closer Than Ever brings us a quartet of singers on journeys – going through doors- to the past, to the future, to the what-might-have-been. And literally, in this production screened by Broadway HD on their platform, in a small space there are 4 physical doors. In 90 minutes we meet a huge range of recognisable characters – from mindless gym bunnies to a prim and proper estate agent with a wild sexual hinterland, and a couple of Queer romances that predictably end awkwardly.
Its opening number Doors is a close-harmony marvel – as they sing of doors opening, doors closing – doors that keep out the chill of night, and keep their secrets tight. Lee Mead gives us an urban romance in She Loves Me Not and his high clear tones are joyful if a little sad in this number. Grace Mouat teams up with him in the sarcastically sharp You Want To Be My Girlfriend? – clearly she’s not having any of it.
Dalton Harris perfectly catches the folly of forbidden young love in What Am I Doin’ ? And West End diva Kerry Ellis is perfect as the scientist, cold, calculating and very anti-men – she’s sharp as a razor in The Bear,The Tiger,The Hamster and The Mole- all animals happy to be single mothers.
There’s an absolute feast of delicious songs – few better than Miss Byrd, where a very ordinary estate agent office worker reveals her inner sexual fantasy life – brilliantly put across by Kerry Ellis.
The quartet gives us a straight and Queer view of a new romance in Dating Again – “ waiting again for some guy I’ll be hating again..skating again on thin ice again, wondering if he’ll call and hoping he wont”. Dalton is sad and reflective as a happily married man who wants more but He’s One Of The Good Guys. Then the seriousness is shattered by a quartet pumping muscle in the gym “ wish we were you watching us”, capturing the narcissistic side of gym life and ultimately admitting defeat.
Next Time segues into I Wouldn’t Go Back where Dalton and Kerry promise us they’ll be better in their next relationships. Lee and Dalton sing laconically about their failed Queer romance in He Was Never There – “ he was in the room, he just wasn’t present”, we’re told pointedly. Grace Mouat has the most poetic number in Patterns, where she’s sad, upset and thinks life is slipping away.
By far the finest song here, and in my opinion in the Maltby and Shire songbook, is If I Sing, where a young singer/songwriter thanks his father for the gift of music – a gift his father no longer can express. In Dalton’s rendition it’s touching, haunting, and as I know from a previous life of singing, an absolute nightmare to sing – its vocal range being so wide and high.
And the songs keep coming – the sexual innuendo of Back On Base, the innocent charm of the parent to-be in Fathers Are Fathers and a strong, positive final number in Closer Than Ever.
Closer Than Ever, produced by Ginger Quiff Media and Broadway HD is streamed by the latter. You could catch it if you were clever, on a 7-day free trial. More info here