If this article’s title — “The Sorry/Grateful Musical” – grabbed you, you are well within your rights to assume that it refers to COMPANY. After all, that’s the show in which Stephen Sondheim stated that marriage can make someone sorry that he entered wedlock, while being grateful at other times.
But the show cited here is actually CLOSER THAN EVER, the 1989 musical revue by composer David Shire and lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. The show, currently at the York Theatre Company in New York, offers two dozen songs that show sorrow and gratitude on marriage and a few other issues, too.
It’s done on a simple stage with six doors. That’s it, save the grand piano that Andrew Gerle plays grandly. James Morgan wasn’t merely economizing (although saving bucks is always a consideration for any theater). The opening song is “Doors” – how life sometimes opens them for us, and at other times slams them shut.
And, may I add, how sorry we are for some doors and grateful for others.
Those doors are constantly opened and closed on the set, almost as much as you’d see in any farce. You are well-advised to have a few cans of 3-in-One Oil at the ready so that those hinges won’t ever be heard to squeak. You don’t want unwelcome sounds when a door-slam is supposed to nicely punctuate a button on a number. For that matter, you don’t want squeaks rudely interrupting Maltby’s perfectly rhymed and accented lyrics or David Shire’s melodies. Is anyone in musical theater better than Shire at writing anxiety-filled music, with quarter-notes and eighth-notes abounding?
CLOSER THAN EVER is a revue where four performers – Jenn Colella, George Dvorsky, Christiane Noll and Sal Viviano – play a multitude of characters in situations that many of us have experienced. If we haven’t, we certainly know people who have.
Viviano sings the ultimate “sorry/grateful” song in “One of the Good Guys,” in which he relates how he’s always been a faithful husband and good father – which means he spends an inordinate amount of time wondering what he’s missed. Especially frustrating are those nights when he meets women who he knows wants him.
Maltby, who also directed, has Viviano finger the wedding band on his hand. The gesture seems to suggest both that Viviano wanted to make certain that it was still there as well as realize that it’s the tie that binds. Viviano, however, plays a far less healthy individual in “What Am I Doin’?” in which he’s the dropped boyfriend who’s inclined to spy on his ex’s every move. He’s deeply sorry and nothing else.
Noll is sorry and grateful, too, when she divulges her “Life Story,” a title which just as easily could have been “I’m Not Complaining.” She is and isn’t carping as she recalls her first husband and their “civilized divorce.” Now she wonders if she should have made the effort to save the marriage. She’s all tied up in “maybe” and “maybe-nots.”
Each male, female, gay, straight, teen and senior has fallen in love and has found that the operative word is “fallen.” Everyone’s made every effort to get a person we care and lust for to return that fall, too. But no matter what super-effort is made, we just couldn’t get this certain person to return the love. Oh, there may be others, but we’re not interested in them. It’s one of life’s biggest annoyances and tragedies, and it’s all deftly covered in “She Loves Me Not,” which Dvorsky, Noll and Viviano poignantly perform.
There then are the lovers who have dumped us and said that they wanted to continue being our “friends.” Perhaps they even mean it, although the world is littered with post-romantic attempts at friendships that never bore fruit. Colella’s character certainly doesn’t give her ex-lover the benefit of any doubt and delivers a less-than-friendly rant in “You Want to Be My Friend?” that sets her would-be friend straight. (Straight to the floor, in fact, as Colella gets out her hostilities by pushing him to leave no doubt where she stands.)
Whether the end of your relationship made you feel sorry or grateful, you know you have to move on. “Next Time” is refreshing because all four participants are sorry for their failures in their previous romances and readily take responsibility for them. All are grateful, however, for a second chance and vow to do better. Shire’s pulsating melody makes us believe that they’ll do just that.
Not every single person is miserable. Take “Miss Byrd,” the receptionist at a real estate firm. She tells of her trysts in between showing apartments. Maltby put Colella on an office chair with wheels, so when she told of her afternoon delights, she could illustrate her zest by zooming all over the stage. The song also serves to show how grateful she is at being single. She’s not sorry a whit.
And let’s face it: there are times when we’re not the least bit sorry to let someone go and are grateful for the opportunity to start a new life. Colella complains that Dvorsky had, to quote Gertrude Stein, no “there there” and she feels well rid of him. Dvorsky’s character, in fact, sees her point.
There are other gems. Each busy parent is depending on the other to baby-sit in “Fandango.” On the other end of the spectrum, we find as we age that we’ll be baby-sitting our parents in “Fathers of Fathers.”
If you have the original cast album and then see the York production, you’ll find two fewer new numbers. “Dating Again” shows the angst that the newly-divorced, just-widowed and long-term singles feel. Included are such dating disasters as a woman’s losing a contact lens in the middle of a meal. While it starts with Colella and Noll complaining, Dvorsky and Viviano soon join in, proving that what’s bad for the goose is also bad for the gander.
Lest it all sound too dour, sometimes matters do work out between couples who are not at all sorry and very grateful to be heading to that altar. “There’s Something in a Wedding” has the cast sitting in pews, knowing all the perils of marriage, but still swept up in the love that fills the room. Everyone hopes for the best, not merely for the couple, but as a validation that marriage can still work, through all the sorry and grateful times.
You may say, “Haven’t we had enough songs about weddings?” But has there ever been one where two people in love, each of whom has been wed before, get to sing about their second attempt at marriage? “Another Wedding Song” may give the people you know who are planning a return engagement the song they will want to use for their first dance. (Talkin’ Broadway’s Cincinnati critic Scott Cain and his new bride Janet Hogue sang it at their wedding reception.)
In the end, for all its sorry and grateful facets, CLOSER THAN EVER sheds light on how two people in any relationship can indeed learn to be closer than ever. It’s actually a very therapeutic musical. Some of your attendees may even thank you at show’s end for having the cast express what they’ve longed to say or needed to discover. It speaks to all of us who have ever loved, wanted to, or still believe we can.
You may e-mail Peter at email@example.com. Check out his weekly column each Tuesday at www.masterworksbroadway.com and each Friday at www.kritzerland.com as well as his reviews for the Newark Star-Ledger on www.nj.com. His newest book, Broadway Musical MVPs, 1960-2010: The Most Valuable Players of the Past 50 Seasons, is now available through Applause Books and at www.amazon.com.