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Close call for Mason Street’s ‘Closer than Ever’

Review August 17, 2013 Sue Merrell

The old adage “too close for comfort” doesn’t apply to musical revues. The more a song mirrors the listener’s feelings and experiences, the more comfortable and appreciative the audience becomes.

And “Closer than Ever” snuggled up nice and cozy with Friday’s opening night audience of about 200 at Saugatuck’s Mason Street Warehouse.

In a series of 26 numbers, the jazzy music of David Shire and revealing lyrics of Richard Maltby open the doors to dozens of little relationship vignettes that feel familiar. Even if you’ve never been involved in a love triangle like the one described in “She Loves Me Not,” the rejection is easily identifiable. And many audience members probably wanted to sing along with “You Want to Be My Friend,” the lament of a woman whose lover refuses to commit.

The four-person ensemble – Anne Brummel, Trisha Rapier, Jonathan Rayson and Matt Stokes – do an outstanding job of creating characters almost instantly in the little song scenes, while managing some pretty rangy contemporary music and tricky harmonies.

Brummel, who recently played Elphaba in the national tour of “Wicked,” snags hearts as “Miss Byrd,” an overlooked secretary with a steamy love life. She reveals her torchy side in “Back on Base,” spotlighting bass player Andrew Rose and his uncanny ability to keep playing through her distracting embraces.

Rapier, who appeared in Mason Street’s production of “Xanadu” earlier this year, makes a convincing man-hating scientist in “The Bear, the Tiger, the Hamster and the Mole.” She’s milder in the “Life Story” of an abandoned mother who raises a son on her own. She’s very funny with Rayson in “Fandango,” a comedic dance of harried parents trying to pass the kid off to each other.

Rayson hits the heart as “One of the Good Guys,” a happily married man who sometimes wonders about a chance he missed. Stokes also strikes a chord with “I’ll Get Up Tomorrow Morning,” about a father’s determination to muddle through economic and child-rearing demands.

The foursome click together on several group numbers, most notably “There’s Nothing Like It,” an operatic ode to the glories of exercise, pierced with pockets of pain and cursing.

Kurt Stamm, Mason Street’s artistic director, has been involved with several productions of “Closer than Ever” over the years, including last year’s critically acclaimed off-Broadway revival. Stamm’s choregraphy and direction for this production bears the confidence and polish of that experience.

Music director Patrick Coyle leads the three-piece on-stage band, and even joins in the singing on “Father of Fathers.” Jon Reeves’s set is splattered with white doors and door hangings, which lighting designer Jennifer Kules uses as canvas for some scene changing lighting effects.

Although many of these songs create a strong connection almost immediately, others are more remote, such as “Patterns,” “Father of Fathers,” and “I’ve Been Here Before.” It’s also hard to establish a thread between the songs. The first act is stronger, with a feeling of progression, building toward the second act. But then the second act is more hit and miss.

Without more connection between the songs, that cozy feeling of Act I dissipates and the goal of being “Closer than Ever” is never realized.

Week of 7/15/2024

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