By Michael Buzzelli
Payten Blake, Libby Lindahl, Jantz Levin, and Will Chadek get to showcase their talents in David Shire and Richard Maltby’s “Closer Than Ever.”
There is no plot, characters, or theme in “Closer Than Ever,” but it’s a joyous revue with a plethora of catchy tunes. The two men and two women play multiple characters – at one point Man 1 (Levin) is Woman 3 in the song “Three Friends.” The first act is very heteronormative, but things get more fluid in the second act.
The show has no dialogue, except for some jocular adlibbing during the transitions. Don’t look for patterns in the show, which, ironically, has a song called, “Patterns” in it.
Just sit back, relax and let the music take you.
There are some great songs.
Levin goes big with the zany ” What Am I Doin.'” A ditty from the POV of a stalker who is aware he’s crossed a line. Levin sparkles in the song, and he’s never as creepy as Penn Badgley in “You.”
Joy seems to be oozing out of Levin in every performance.
Lindahl gets a fine moment to shine with “Life Story.” The song, a biography of a divorcee, frequently pops up in cabaret acts. It’s iconic and Lindahl does a terrific job with it.
Blake dazzles in “Back on Base.” The song is sultry and seductive but gently undercut with some sly humor. She has oodles of natural charisma. If anything, Blake’s immense talent seems to be underutilized in a showcase. She is a star.
There’s a lot there when Levin and Chadek sing “There,” a reverse love song, where the two men fall out of love with one another. It’s one of the heavier songs in the production, but its delivered with enormous gravitas and pathos, heavy but not heavy-handed.
The show is at its best when all four performers grace the stage. During “Dating Again” the ensemble nails it. Each performer hits the right beats, musically and comically. The frenetic scene is adroitly choreographed by Eileen Grace Reynolds.
Hayden Bingham’s scenic design is a retro 70s musical variety show blast from the past. Picture a “Sonny & Cher” or “The Brady Bunch Variety Hour” set with the world’s largest Connect Four backdrop.
The show has more props and costume changes than it really needs, but its expertly directed by Tomé Cousin with musical direction of Robert Frankenberry. Rob even gets a moment or two to shine as well, singing some transitional music.
Catch it quick. “Closer Than Ever” closes sooner than you think. It’s up for one raucous weekend.
“Closer Than Ever” runs this weekend only from Wednesday, October 18 until Sunday, October 22 at the Highmark Theatre, 350 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.