Just listen to "Miss Byrd" (Colella). This has, to begin with, an up-tempo beat so pleasing as to be irresistible. Add to that a lyric filled with surprises; this Byrd seems to be a relative of Miss Abigail Brown, bachelor stenographer, of Sheldon Harnick's "Boston Beguine." So far, so good. What takes "Miss Byrd" out of the ordinary, though, is that we end up with not a bunch of laughs set to a nifty tune but a touching character study. "Lots of girls who first seem shy have secrets, I have found," suggests the drab Byrd, so "if you think I'm special — I suggest you look around."
"Life Story" (Noll) is not a comedy song, but in the same way it reveals its character, a hard-working and intelligent middle-aged woman with no regrets who keeps telling us "I'm not complaining." We listen, though, as she realizes that her long-ago decision to divorce has sabotaged her entire adult life. A lovely song, and only one of the treasures in Closer Than Ever. There's another song of regrets for a man, "One of the Good Guys" (Viviano), which is not quite as exceptional but similarly revealing.
"Patterns" is a song which has become relatively well known, thanks to its inclusion on the Baby cast album (despite the fact that it was cut from that show before opening). Always effective, it is even stronger here and stands out thanks to the delivery by Noll. Also of note is "Back on Base," a deliciously sly novelty number for sexy singer (Colella) and bass soloist (Danny Weller). The fathers of both Shire and Maltby were bandleaders, and this one feels like it would fit right in with a '50s band. Let us add, by the way, that musical director/pianist Andrew Gerle is himself an up-and-coming theatre composer.
Best of all is "If I Sing" (Dvorsky), a beautiful and searing song about a musician who visits his musician-father, ill and no longer able to play. This one is clearly personal; it goes, "If I sing, you are the music." Shire, the composer, collaborated with Maltby on the lyric. It is astoundingly good, and I cannot listen to it without being deeply moved.
(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes" as well as “The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations,” “Second Act Trouble,” the "Broadway Yearbook" series and the “Opening Night on Broadway” books. He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)
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