A new CD of a show I’ve loved from its earlier recording raises the question “Do I need another one?” Often, the answer for the normal collector is “No.” (Of course, I’m not your normal collector – I suffer from the symptoms of a condition known as compulsive completism.) But then the follow-up question is: “If I don’t already have the first recording, which of the two available versions should I get?”
This conundrum is brought into high relief by Jay Records’ release of a new recording of Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire’s 1989 musical review Closer Than Ever. Theirs is of the York Theatre Company’s 2012 revival. The original production’s cast was recorded by RCA Broadway and is still available through its successor, Sony’s Masterworks Broadway umbrella label.
There are real differences between the packages, but both offer superlatives to treasure.
The core of each is a collection of superb songs that Maltby and Shire dug out of their “Urban File” of songs they had written that touched on the lives of mature men and women in modern day America and the additional songs they wrote once their theme had been established.
Maltby, the lyricist, has had significant successes with and without David Shire. Without him, Maltby conceived, provided lyrics for and directed the Fats Waller musical Ain’t Misbehavin’, adapted and directed Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Song and Dance, wrote lyrics for Claude-Michel Schönberg’s Miss Saigon and created and directed the Johnny Cash musical Ring of Fire, among others. (We won’t go into his contribution to the lamentable The Pirate Queen.) His lyrics for Closer Than Ever are incisive, literate and alternately amusing and touching.
With Shire, his Broadway credits include the superbly entertaining musical based on the movie Big and the consistently intriguing musical Baby. They collaborated as well on another off-Broadway review, Starting Here, Starting Now and developed a musical that I still hope will get a Broadway production, Take Flight.
Shire hasn’t just sat around waiting for Maltby to join him for a project. The man composed the music for a host of movies including The Conversation, All The President’s Men, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and Saturday Night Fever while handling assignments for television and even turning out a “Sonata for Cocktail Piano” which can be heard on the Bay Cities release “Classical Hollywood II.”
Together, Maltby and Shire have given Closer Than Ever two dozen individually notable songs. There really isn’t a dull moment in any of them. From the up-tempo comedy of “What am I Doing?” to the jazzy “Back on Base,” and from the three-part counterpoint of “She Loves Me Not” to the heart-touching “If I Sing,” each song is a short one-act play of its own with a strong concept, a clear message and the kind of construction that is the hallmark of a short play: a beginning, a middle and an end. (That sounds a lot easier than it really is.)
For the new production, Maltby and Shire replaced two songs, added transitions and inserted one new number, “There’s Something In A Wedding,” which acts as a set up for the following number titled “Another Wedding Song.” “Like a Baby” is replaced with “I’ll Get Up Tomorrow Morning” and “The Sound of Muzak” by “Dating Again.” These changes may have improved the in-theater experience of the revue, but they don’t appreciably change the in-home experience of the recording.
Both versions must have sounded a lot alike in the theater – the original at the 179-seat Cherry Lane Theatre in New York’s Greenwich Village, the new one at the York Theatre’s 178 seat off-Broadway house underneath Saint Peter’s Church in Manhattan’s Citigroup Center on Lexington Avenue. Each featured four vocalists, a pianist and a bass player.
The original featured Brent Barrett, Richard Muenz, Sally Mayes and Lynne Wintersteller backed by pianist Patrick Scott Brady and bassist Robert Renino. Both Barrett and Mayes are probably well known to many theater music fans while Muenz and Wintersteller may be less well known, but have strong credentials. All four shine in the recording.
The new production stars Christiane Noll, Jenn Colella, Sal Viviano, and George Dvorsky – four well known current musical theater performers. Noll starred in Jekyll & Hyde, Chaplin and the revival of Ragtime for which she was nominated for the Best Actress in a Musical Tony Award. Colella starred in Urban Cowboy, High Fidelity and Chaplin along with Noll.
As much as they might have sounded the same in the theaters, by the time the productions reached their recording studios there were real differences. When RCA recorded the piece back in 1989, they hired the highly talented orchestrator Michael Starobin to come up with charts augmented with a synthesizer, drums, guitars, two woodwinds, a french horn and a cello. The orchestral ensemble took some of the piano flourishes and filigrees, leaving pianist Patrick Scott Brady with a bit less to do than he had in the theater. (He was also the show’s music director so he was hardly left bereft of a role.) This gave the recording more of a musical theater show tunes sound.
Jay Records’ producer John Yap, as is his highly praised practice, likes to do note-complete recordings of scores using their in-theater arrangements/orchestrations. Therefore, his Closer Than Ever offers the sound you would have heard at the York – four vocalists and two instrumentalists. It is a bit more like a cabaret sound than a show tune one. The result is that music director/pianist Andrew Gerle has the intended central spot in the support for the vocalists and he fills it with superb panache.
Indeed, for my money, Gerle’s work is the deciding factor making the new recording the best choice for those wanting just one Closer than Ever on their theater shelf. It also has a package that includes the full lyrics which the RCA one doesn’t. However, it is priced higher than the earlier “two discs for the price of one” release on RCA.
Whichever you chose, you can’t loose with material this good.