The musical revue Closer Than Ever was first produced in 1989 at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts, before moving to New York. It went on to receive the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical, and its creators (including lyricist Richard Maltby Jr. and composer David Shire) were nominated for a Drama Desk Award.
The show—which features four actors over 40 sharing their life experiences through song—holds up well in 2022. Themes like marriage, divorce, parenthood struggles and aging are universal and timeless—and CVRep’s production of Closer Than Ever is flat-out terrific. Each member of the cast has an impressive voice and strong acting skills.
Janna Cardia has a soaring soprano instrument, but also handles her lower range well. She has some wonderful moments, including the raucously comical “The Bear, the Tiger, the Hamster and the Mole,” which examines the possibility of eliminating men from the procreation process, and the touching “Life Story,” a look at the pain and deep regret divorce can bring.
Blessed with a rich, warm alto voice, Julie Garnyé draws the audience in with each of her musical numbers. She really shines with “Miss Byrd,” the story of a buttoned-up secretary with a steamy personal life, and “Back on Base,” a musical tete-a-tete featuring bass player Emilio Villarreal. Cardia and Garnyé blend their vocal styles seamlessly on the duet “It’s Never That Easy/I’ve Been Here Before.”
The men in the cast are equally wonderful. Jeffrey Landman, the more comic character, is fun to watch in “I’ll Get Up Tomorrow Morning” and while dashing Garnyé’s romantic hopes in “You Want to Be My Friend?” Landman’s duet with Michael Bullard, “Fathers of Fathers,” is memorable.
Bullard has powerful vocal pipes and great comic timing, which he shows off in “What Am I Doin’?” and “One of the Good Guys.” For me, the evening’s highlight was Bullard’s “If I Sing,” an adult man’s tribute to his father.
The cast has great chemistry, and their vocal harmonies on group numbers like “Next Time/I Wouldn’t Go Back” and “Closer Than Ever” are gorgeous. They seem to be having a blast onstage, which is infectious.
A musical revue with no dialogue requires a superb musical director, and Scott Storr does not disappoint here. He continues his 20-year musical-theater collaboration with director Ron Celona, guiding his singers to melodic excellence.
Pianist/conductor David Andrews Rogers and the band (Kurt Kelly on keyboard, Dominque Torres on percussion, and Emiliano Villarreal on Bass) are stellar. Though they’re onstage, they’re never obtrusive, and provide just the right support for the singers.
Jimmy Cuomo once again knocks it out of the park with the set. It’s colorful, classy, sophisticated yet simple, and just right. Hair/makeup designer Lynda Shaeps, costume designer Frank Cazares and lighting designer Moira Wilkie Whitaker deserve mention for their fine work as well.
In his final directorial production with CVRep, Celona leaves on a high note with Closer Than Ever. It is bittersweet, as he is retiring after 13 years as the theater’s artistic director.
On a personal note, I first met Ron 20 years ago, when we were both in the cast of Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at the old Top Hat Playhouse. His singing and dancing in the role of the governor was quite impressive—but the dream of creating his own theater was already percolating in his brain. I watched in awe as Ron slowly and painstakingly made his dream come true—first at the Joslyn Center, then with CVRep at the Atrium in Rancho Mirage, and finally in the company’s permanent home in Cathedral City. Many others have tried and failed in similar endeavors, but Ron did it right. He surrounded himself with an excellent board and a staff of seasoned professionals, made sure to cast talented actors, and produced thought-provoking, entertaining theater. Thank you, Ron, for sharing your dream with the Coachella Valley, and for leaving a lasting theatrical legacy. You will be missed.
If you love good musical theater, go see CVRep’s Closer Than Ever. You’ll be glad you did.
Closer Than Ever will be performed at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, March 20, at the CVRep Playhouse, 68510 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Cathedral City. Tickets are $53-$63. For tickets or more information, call 760-296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org.
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