A Peek Behind Their "Doors": Closer Than Ever Songwriters Maltby & Shire Revisit Their Classic Musical Revue

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19 Jun 2012

David Shire and Richard Maltby, Jr.
David Shire and Richard Maltby, Jr.
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. and composer David Shire discuss their process and the songs of their beloved 1989 revue Closer Than Ever, which has resurfaced in a revised New York City revival.


One of the longest-running musical partnerships in Broadway history began 56 years ago in 1956 when Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire, both of them sons of celebrated orchestra leaders, arrived at the Yale University campus on the same day.

This remembered math brings a wince to the eyes of Maltby (the Younger — by four months)."I don't like to put that number down," he grumbles. "David says it all the time. He thinks it's great, and I think, 'Shut up.' I have no connection to this number that's attached to my name. I know people who are this age, and they're old people. I haven't tolerated a birthday for ten years." A lyric, or a snit, seems to be coming on.

"We both wanted to write musicals," he recalls, but he also recalls it wasn't exactly a Starting Here, Starting Now sort of thing. "David came from Buffalo and wrote music, and I came from Long Island, by way of Exeter, and wrote book and lyrics, but we didn't hit it off immediately. In fact, I think we did everything possible not to work together. Then we looked around, and there was nobody else."

They certainly "settled" rather spectacularly, if the next few days are any barometer.

Closer Than Ever, their sprightly, scattered look at modern times, foibles and heartbreaks (which The New York Times called "one of the half-dozen finest American theatre scores of the last decade"), returns June 20 to the Off-Broadway scene where it ran in 1989-90 — this time to the York Theatre through July, perhaps longer, headlining Jenn Colella, George Dvorsky, Christiane Noll and Sal Viviano.

(Two days earlier, on June 18, their first — and still favorite — Broadway show, Baby, celebrated its third decade with a concert performance at the Lucille Lortel Theatre benefiting the Transport Group Theatre Company. Liz Callaway and Todd Graff, who were Tony-nominated as the youngest of three pairs of prospective parents, hosted the evening, and two dozen of today's Broadway A-list participated. And so did Maltby and Shire, in a talk-back, following the performance.)

Christiane Noll in the York Theatre production of Closer Than Ever.
photo by Carol Rosegg

There's even some Baby spillage into their now-classic revue. Four songs that were cut from that show found comfortable lodging in Closer Than Ever. "We don't throw away songs," Maltby beams brightly. "We recycle. We're ecologically sound. 'Father of Fathers' was written for Baby and went away, and we were very unhappy when it went away because I think it's a really gorgeous song. We did a lot of rewriting in rehearsals, and, as the story changed, there was no place for 'Father of Fathers.' The lyric was actually adjusted for this show. We took that song, which I think we really loved musically, and adjusted it so it would be a stand-alone song."

Not only was "The Bear, the Tiger, the Hamster and the Mole" cut from Baby, so too was the character who sang it. "There was a fourth story in Baby about a biology teacher who wanted to have a baby without getting married, so we followed that through. The problem with the character was, once she had sung the song, there was nothing else that the character really needed to say."

"Patterns" and "I Wouldn't Go Back" are the other Baby orphans adopted by Closer Than Ever. There are also tunes cut from Love Match and from a musical with Bill C. Davis that didn't happen, Of the Village Bells. (For the record, for those who know and love the original Off-Broadway cast album, "The Sound of Muzak" was cut this time around — because it seemed dated, Shire said — and replaced with "Dating Again." Not to worry — the rousing opening number, "Doors," is intact.)


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