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Bodhi Tree Concerts brought a smart production of the sophisticated revue "Closer Than Ever" to La Jolla.

By Ken Herman | April 7, 2024

On Saturday at the La Jolla Community Center, Bodhi Tree Concerts presented Closer Than Ever, a sophisticated 1989 cabaret revue of 28 songs by lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. and composer David Shire. Although this revue has no book, a plausible unity emerges from the subjects of its generous collection of songs that recount the agonies of love and break-up in distinctly urban language. In fact, Maltby’s earliest version of Closer Than Ever was titled Urban File, and in production manager Diana DuMelle’s opening remarks, she described Closer Than Ever as a New York City cult classic.

Even a smattering of Maltby’s song titles suggests the work’s emotional spectrum. Existential angst blooms in “What Am I Doin’?” A failed marriage is revealed in “She Loves Me Not,” and life on the rebound is captured in “Dating Again” and “Next Time.” Determination receives its due in “I Wouldn’t Go Back” and “It’s Never That Easy.”

Bodhi Tree Concerts assembled a stellar team of four vocalists to give these songs the polish and vocal allure they deserve: soprano Heidi Meyer, mezzo Kim Hendrix-Racine, tenor David Humphrey and bass Walter DuMelle. Their instrumental component proved equally adroit: pianist Bryan Verhoye, bassist Glen Fisher, and percussion guru David Whitman. Tenor Miguel Angel Zazueta also assisted with a few songs.

Describing the songs in Closer Than Ever, I have agreed with my better angel to avoid the adjective arch—although that characterization rarely left my mind all evening. However, with that category in mind, in Kim Hendrix-Racine’s blazing account of “You Want to Be My Friend?”—aimed at the aptly simpering Walter DuMelle—she belted the song’s withering accusations with a vocal fury that removed some of the paint from the Community Center’s rear wall. Second place in this category: Heidi Meyer’s smoldering cabaletta of post-divorce grievance, “Life Story,” peppered her captive audience with her snarling refrain, “but I’m not complaining.” Honorable mention: “I Wouldn’t Go Back,” the rousing ensemble that closed the first half of the show, gave the vocal quartet a fortissimo fusillade that made most renditions of Verdi’s “Anvil Chorus” seem like a gentle lullaby.

Tenor David Humphrey impressed in both solos and ensembles, his mellow tenor voice blooming gloriously in its uppermost range, and his pellucid diction meant his audience never missed a word or a nuance. How could we doubt his persuasive croon in “One of the Good Guys,” where he deftly enumerated his gentlemanly virtues? On the other hand, he trumpeted his self-interest in “Fandango,” a bristling duet with a Latin beat in which he and spouse Heidi Meyer insisted the other “take the baby” to foster their own speedy career advancement.

Walter DuMelle’s best shot was “If I Sing,” a hopeful, confessional aria delivered with vocal warmth and winning assurance that credited his vocal success to the deep love that inspired his song.

Television sit-coms have made fun of dads since the days of black-and- white TV, so it was inspiring to hear “Father of Fathers,” a male trio that praised the nurturing role of fathers. David Humphrey and Walter DuMelle blended their stalwart voices as the fathers of laudable experience, and Miguel Angel Zazueta joined his glowing tenor as the admiring upcoming father.

Shirley Johnston’s inventive stage direction kept the singers in near-constant motion, devising bits of choreography and movement that fit the context of each individual song, a wise compensation for the lack of motivation from an overall plot. Her stunning moment, I thought, was Kim Hendrix-Racine’s brilliant, hyperactive solo “Miss Byrd,” the lament of an overlooked office minion sung through while seated in a typical office chair that careened across the stage once she got her dander up.

Closer Than Ever won over the full house at the La Jolla Community Center practically from the first song. It’s not Stephen Sondheim by a long shot, and Maltby and Shire are clearly not Kander and Ebb. But their songwriting skills are sharp, and anyone with an appetite for urban angst served up as a hearty entree will leave satisfied.

Bodhi Tree Concerts presented Maltby and Shire’s revue ‘Closer Than Ever’ April 6 & 7, 2024 at the La Jolla Community Center, La Jolla, CA. The April 6 performance was attended for this review.


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