Songs in revue are winning combination

THEATER REVIEW

January 30, 1992|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

The songs vary from love songs to ballads to novelty numbers; their tone ranges from comic to satiric, bittersweet to sad. Chances are, you've never heard a single one before, and yet Fells Point Corner Theatre's production of "Closer Than Ever" will warm your heart.

In fact, it's no exaggeration to say that "Closer Than Ever" comes closer than ever to demonstrating the high caliber of Baltimore's community theaters -- and of Fells Point Corner in particular.

The tuneful, sophisticated musical revue consists of two dozen loosely linked songs by composer David Shire and lyricist Richard Maltby Jr., creators of "Baby" and "Starting Here, Starting Now" (Maltby's other credits include "Miss Saigon" and the short-lived "Nick & Nora"). Modest in scale, it is deceptively demanding vocally, and Fells Point Corner's five-person cast meets most of the demands with gusto.

Although the show has no plot- line, the songs are thematically related, dealing primarily with relationships and/or the search for fulfillment and happiness. Toni Richards injects a dose of jazzy personality into "You Wanna Be My Friend," a comically angry retort to a boyfriend who wants to let her down easy. Christopher Morrison displays an easy-going stage presence in "What Am I Doin' " playing directly to the front row as he questions the extremes we go to for love.

Michael P. Hoffmaster's booming baritone occasionally overpowers the subject matter of his songs, but it's just right in "Like A Baby," an aching expression of the desire to be held.

And though her voice is less steady than the others, Conni Ross does a cute turn as a scientist in "The Bear, the Tiger, the Hamster and the Mole," a musical lecture on various animal species in which females aren't dependent on males.

In the second half, the on-stage pianist and musical director, Tim Delaney, also breaks into song and reveals himself to be a capable vocalist, particularly when he, Hoffmaster and Morrison tackle the tricky harmonies in "Fathers of Fathers."

Terry J. Long's simple directorial approach lets the songs take center stage. The primary piece of scenery in Jim Slivka's largely bare set is a free-standing door, inspired by the repeated motif of doors representing passages in life. Peter N. Joyce's pastel-tinged lighting enhances the shifting moods of the songs.

It's difficult to pick a favorite among these witty numbers, but surely one of the most fun is "The Sound of Muzak," a lament for the cheapening of music due to its intrusive presence everywhere from groceries to restrooms. The song suggests that the next scientific advancement will make it possible to inject music directly into the bloodstream. If one of the injections were Fells Point Corner's "Closer Than Ever," that wouldn't be half bad.

"Closer Than Ever" continues at Fells Point Corner Theatre weekends through Feb. 16; call (410) 276-7837.

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