There are a ton of musicals about finding love. A TON. But, as anyone who has been married and created a few small people of their own knows, the beginning of a relationship is just the tip of the iceberg (Titanic reference intentional…)
So where are all the stories of mundane dinners, arguments over who is watching the baby, and the general feeling of unease that middle age satisfaction throws at your happily ever after? Well the musical “Closer Than Ever” is closer than most.
Running at the International City Theatre in Long Beach, this only slightly dated piece is brimming with middle aged suburban angst. The show features music from the duo Maltby & Shire, presented in a simple “songologue” format. 4 singers, two musicians, a few scattered chairs, and one moveable door are the entirety of this piece. And, in this case, some incredible actors who can actually sing at the same time.
As the cast navigates simple staging and a serious lack of flash, this old school musical shines due to the clean musical direction of Gerald Sternbach and the fantastic direction of Todd Nielsen, who allowed the actors find true connections with the material without forcing them over the top.
Valerie Perri soars, showing off her gorgeous voice and bouncing from youthful sparkle to the tightly controlled mask of a woman who has been further down some roads than she planned. Kevin Bailey brings a resonant baritone to both the lighter and darker pieces, shining in the comedic sections with a smirk. Katheryne Penny gets some of the best numbers in the show including “Miss Byrd” and “Back on Base” and although she reads young, brings a lot of subtle humor to the numbers. And cast standout is the fluid tenor Adam von Almen, who morphs from song to song, character to character by investing deeply in each one, so much so he seems to practically age before your eyes as his songs mature in subject matter.
I first heard this music as a young woman, falling in love with the melodies and sexier numbers. Hearing it again as a married mother of two, it was the lyrics themselves that struck a chord deep in my heart.
Suburban restlessness? Check. What “could have beens”? Check. Losing parents, your ambition, and your naïveté? Check. And on and on it went until tissues were required and I felt like the night was basically the musical version of a recent therapy session.
So is it worth finding help for your kids, braving traffic, and hijacking your date night? Absolutely.
Because the whole “middle aged parenting and life reality check” is so much more fun when it’s presented in song, so take that balding hubby, put on your spanx, and go.
Closer Than Ever is running through March 6th at the Beverly O’Neill Theater at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center. Visit InternationalCityTheatre.org for tickets and info.
photo credit: Tracey Roman