'Closer' speaks across the generations

2013-08-08T00:00:00Z 'Closer' speaks across the generationsKathleen Allen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 08, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Finally, a musical that gets us.

The us there refers to baby boomers. That group of liberated, slightly paunchy, well-worn and cellulite-plagued folks who often have trouble reconciling who we are with who we were.

"Closer Than Ever," which Arizona Onstage Productions opened Friday, perfectly captures the angst of that generation.

But the song-fest also speaks across generations. We are willing to bet that everyone will find something with which to identify.

Especially this production, performed with such grace, humor and expertise.

Kevin Johnson, founder of the company and director of this show, has a knack for picking quirky pieces that have one leaving the theater wondering why the play wasn't a big hit on Broadway.

"Big" may be the key word here - "Closer Than Ever" is an intimate piece; intimate doesn't generally do well on Broadway.

But it does very well on the Cabaret stage at the Temple of Music and Art. And in the hand of this quartet of talent.

"Closer Than Ever" isn't a musical in a traditional sense - it's more of a revue, with no dialogue and songs that speak to unrequited love, divorce, sex, parenting.

Playwrights Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire have worked as a team for a long time. "Closer" consists of songs that got cut from the many musicals they've written, as well as some fresh ones.

Amy Erbe, Liz Cracchiolo, Brian Levario and Kit Runge handle the vocals, though pianist and music director Elliot Jones impressively pipes in for a few.

Each had his or her moments to shine. Cracchiolo's rendition of the jazzy "Miss Byrd," about a prim schoolteacher with a pretty hot sex life, was a hoot; "Life Story," about a divorced woman who long prized her independence but now finds her life thick with loneliness, was infused with a poignancy that reverberated, thanks to Erbe's delivery; "If I Sing," a son's song of gratitude to a father who taught him music but is now too frail to play, shimmered in the hands of Runge, and "One of the Good Guys," about a man loyal to his wife and family but plagued by what he might have missed out on because of it, was wrapped in a lovely sadness by Levario.

There were times when Johnson imposed excess movement on his actors, distracting from the songs. But he also understood when the only thing needed to give a song its biggest impact was a spotlight and a stool.

Johnson is so convinced that audiences will love "Closer Than Ever" that he's offered a money-back guarantee.

We're willing to bet no one will take him up on it.

Review

• What: "Closer Than Ever."

• Playwrights: Richard Maltby and David Shire.

• Director: Kevin Johnson.

• Music director: Elliot Jones.

• When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 18. No performance Aug. 16.

• Where: The Cabaret Theatre at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave.

• Tickets: $30, with discounts available - and a money-back guarantee if you don't enjoy it.

• Reservations, information: arizonaonstage.org or 882-6574.

• Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes, with one intermission.

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at kallen@azstarnet.com or 573-4128.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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