‘Closer Than Ever’ at Being Revived by Amanda Gunther

FOUR AND A HALF STARS
True to the company’s namesake, Being Revived is presenting a musical that you definitely may have missed. Having just one run in 1989 and  critically acclaimed revival Off-Broadway just last year (with two new songs by the composers) the fall season is off to a great start up in Frederick, MD with this passionate young company and their production of Closer Than Ever.

 (l to r) Karen Paone, Andrea Ostrowski Wildason, David Norman, and Tim Seltzer. Photo by Joe Williams.

(l to r) Karen Paone, Andrea Ostrowski Wildason, David Norman, and Tim Seltzer. Photo by Joe Williams.

Written and Composed by Richard Maltby Jr. (Miss Saigon lyrics) and David Shire (Academy Award winner for the theme from Norma Rae), this musical revue is a series of loosely connected songs “…for people who are not like you, who are just like you.” Focusing on older couples who are exploring life—specifically romance and dating— post divorce and being widowed, this musical revue is touching, heartwarming, and rather exciting. With fun uplifting songs to balance out the more emotionally heavy songs, it’s a perfect way to spend an autumn evening out at the theatre. Headed up by Director DC Cathro and Musical Director Jonas Dawson, four talented singers bring this musical to life for all to enjoy.

Director DC Cathro sets a relatively up-tempo pace for the production as a whole though in the first act the show struggles with song transitions. There are awkward pauses of silence and semi-darkness between the musical numbers (occasionally allowing for a switch from bass to electric bass) that stifle the overall energy and flow of the performance. This problem corrects itself in the second act, however, as the numbers tumble more seamlessly into each other. The only other minor problem that stands out in this show is that at times, particularly in the first few numbers, the singers (Tim Seltzer in particular) are washed away and drowned out by either the piano and bass or by their singing partner. A few different blocking choices or even dampening the piano sound could easily fix these moments, that again corrected themselves by the second half of the show.

Musical Director Jonas Dawson also serves as the show’s sole pianist; a musical genius at the bench. His ability to pluck beautiful music on the keys makes this show well worth watching.With his fingers over the ivories the music is beyond resplendent. Dawson also takes up singing in a few of the numbers; his voice incredibly rich and melodious, filling the space with his genuinely remarkable sound. He adds a level of classy jazz to “There,” a duet shared with Andrea Ostrowski Wildason. Between his vividly enchanting voice and his swanky fingers adding some zest on the ivories – that number becomes the second jazziest bit in the piece.

Taking the title of jazziest smooth rolling song is “Back on Base” again sung by Andrea, only this time accompanied by Bassist David Lester, who moves the bass up from the corner to the center of the stage and thrums along to the sensual rhythm – while her character exudes sexuality in this lounge-style number. Lester remains otherwise in the background playing both upright concert bass and an electric one, adding to the incredible yet simplistic orchestrations of Maltby and Shire’s work.

The four performers share a unique chemistry in this production. While not having much intimate chemistry during those truly romantic love songs, they do have make repellant chemistry during the funnier numbers. Their voices blend together with a sense of ease and each performer has a distinctive sound that contributes to the powerful and eager ensemble sound created for bigger numbers like “Dating Again” and “The March of Time.”

David Norman, having just one solo – “If I Sing” – delivers that single song with such a touching and deeply moving emotional connection that it is difficult not to be moved when you hear it. Norman pours the earthy reality of reminiscent memory into this number and you can visibly see the way he relates to the song playing out in his eyes. Featured as the lead singer in “Like A Baby,” his voice exudes a dreamy quality, delivering this song like a sleepy lullaby with a richly fulfilling sound. The ladies join Norman for this number adding a whisper of tragically beautiful harmony behind him, making this song one of the most moving numbers in the show.

(l to r) Tim Seltzer, Jonas Dawson, and David Norman. Photo by Joe Williams.

(l to r) Tim Seltzer, Jonas Dawson, and David Norman. Photo by Joe Williams.

Karen Paone is a pistol of a performer with an operatic belt way up in the rafters as well as a sassy attitude to temper her talented tones. Her big bold number in act one, “The Bear, The Tiger, The Hamster, and The Mole” is packed full of vigorous vehemence. Paone really sells this number, making eye contact intently to draw us into her humorous plight. Giving a dynamic performance she switches gears for “Patterns,” a haunting yet beautiful song that is so serene and yet unsettling, causing her to dig deep emotionally; a chill from her voice it is truly stunning.

When Paone partners with Tim Seltzer for “Fandango,” a quick little comic bit, they are singing vocal daggers at one another, each so wrapped up in their own lives that they even forget the baby. Paone’s voice is easily plucked out during her duet with Andrea, “It’s Never That Easy/I’ve Been Here Before” and she just lets loose, belting out her soul. Paone is well-rounded, and the shining vocal talent of these four really impressive performers.

Andrea Ostrowski Wildason is queen of the characters. Playing first the country cowgirl/hon figure for “You Want To Be My Friend?” (though her accent was a little distracting as it wandered all over the place) she really digs her comic heels right into David’s face in this hilariously explosive “duet.” Wildason cuts her vocal chops during the intense ballad “Life Story,” really sinking into the emotional gravity of the piece, letting her voice float her feels in a fashion most organic. Her shining moment is really her comic number “Miss Byrd,” where she lets completely loose; wild and zany and all over the place, singing and having a great time with the character. “Back On Base” is another number that lets Wildason settle into her vocal comfort zone, lower and jazzier, really swinging those lyrics to a sassy beat.

Tim Seltzer is a particularly physically and expressive singer so that no emotions are lost during his performance. From his opening solo “What Am I Doin’? – where he builds spastic energy into this ridiculously funny but creepy song – to “I’ll Get Up Tomorrow Morning,” he owns each of this comic moments without forcing them. All of his humors that are infused into these songs roll naturally from his person into his voice and out through the extension of his body. Seltzer is as dynamic as Paone with his more sombre and serious number “One of the Good Guys” – a touching and heartfelt rendition of a number that tells an honest story.

Closer than Ever is a great musical revue, a great revival filled with wonderful songs, humor, and great performances. Don’t miss it! 

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LINK
BWW Interviews: Being Revived Theater to Present Rarely Performed Revue CLOSER THAN EVER by Johnna Leary.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes, with one intermission.

Closer Than Ever plays through September 29, 2013 at the Performing Arts Factory—244 South Jefferson Street in Frederick, MD. All tickets are available for purchase at the door the day of the show by cash or check only.

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