By Steven Suskin
18 Aug 2013
Closer Than Ever [Jay]
Many readers, I suppose, have favored CDs that they play repeatedly when the mood fits. These are not necessarily their favorite shows, or the finest scores in their collection. They are the cast albums you find comforting, the ones you go back to when you don't want to concentrate on something new and are happy to just listen to something you know you enjoy. There are times when you feel like Sweeney Todd, and other times you feel like The Most Happy Fella.
One of the albums on my repeat list is Richard Maltby and David Shire's 1983 musical Baby. This was not, mind you, the finest musical I've ever seen. I liked the show very much, went back to see it three or four times, and always found it enormously engaging. But I never thought for a moment that it was a great musical. Baby had its inherent flaws, which rolled around at each performance and I always noted with a sense of sorrow. But even now, thirty years later, I can't watch Catharine Cox or Liz Callaway in anything without momentarily thinking — ah! So I listen to Baby, I suppose, ten or twelve times a year, when nothing else will quite do.
Closer Than Ever, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, was a 1989 revue of songs by the team — their second such Off-Broadway offering. They joined together as students at Yale, where they wrote several musicals. They made their off Broadway debut in 1961 with The Sap of Life, a young-man-in-the-big-city musical which ran for eight weeks. Shire was a protégé of Sondheim, serving as assistant and rehearsal pianist for the 1964 Anyone Can Whistle and the 1966 TV musical Evening Primrose. He also wrote the dance arrangement for the Michael Bennett/Donna McKechnie specialty "Tick-Tock," in Company.
The team's intended big break came in 1967 with How Do You Do, I Love You, a musical about computer dating with book by Michael Stewart and starring Phyllis Newman. This one died after a stock tryout, despite what seem to have been possibilities; there are eight delightful songs, by my count. (I can find only a poor audience recording of the score, but it sits on my 'favored mood' list along with Baby. And Company, for that matter.) Shortly after the abandonment of How Do You Do came a second and even bigger disappointment. Love Match, a 1968 musical about Queen Victoria (played by Patricia Routledge) and Prince Albert, closed during its pre-Broadway tryout.Continued...