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Lodestone's latest production is a crowd-pleasing revival of Richard Maltby Jr. and Steven Scott Smith's 1989 off-Broadway show, Closer Than Ever.
Musicals suffer a bad rap. Even Broadway can sometimes be regarded as frothy, innocuous fares concocted so that people can burst into song and dance at random times on-stage. Some think that expressing a part of the story with spontaneous musical eruptions takes away from the reality of the play and relegates the genre to children's fare.
So what if we strip away the dialogue and singular plot altogether? We end up with musical revues, an evolution of the original musical, where individual stories within each song and dance number are huddled together under a giant umbrella with an overall theme. We end up with is simple and raw shows much like the Lodestone Theatre Ensemble's revival of Richard Maltby, Jr. and Steven Scott Smith's 1989 off-Broadway show, Closer Than Ever.
The show, featuring an all-Asian American cast, explores a range of topics like relationships, aging, family, and unrequited love, strange yet sweet yet awkward yet completely relatable stories as we are "closer than ever" to getting there. Getting where? Well, life's not about the destination but the journey, right?
There are cheeky fares that leave you grinning from ear to ear like "You Want to Be My friend?" -- about that oh-so-dreaded "let's just be friends" talk and how a woman should really react when receiving it -- and Sharline Liu's rendition of a meek-at-work/freak-in-bed "Miss Byrd," as well as more morose numbers like Chil Kong facing the ever-confounding conundrum of being "One of the Good Guys" and "Life Story," dedicated to the ensemble's deceased choreographer RedRunningbear Savage.
Founded in 1999 by Philip W. Chung, Alexandra Chun, Chil Kong and Tim Lounibos, Lodestone has been providing an outlet for Asian Pacific American artists in all aspects of the theatre arts. The theatre ensemble is closing its doors near the end of this year.
"The theme of our final season is beginnings and endings," says Co-Artistic Director Philip W. Chung, "These songs really speak to that, so the show is a perfect fit as we close things down and look beyond Lodestone."
"Closer than Ever" starts off in a very pleasant and -- dare I say -- hopeful way as the ensemble march in and out of stagedoors singing about opportunities missed and grasped. It's not as energetic a start as one might hope for but the party is just getting started because the next two songs, "She Love Me Not" and "You Want to Be My Friend" both sing about the stings of unrequited love. Whereas the former -- a love triangle through which a male character's realization that another male character is just not that into him garners the most laughs of the evening -- is pretty tongue-in-cheek, it's overshadowed by the show's third number through which Erin Quill actually punches fist-in-cheek to Chil Kong and delivers a knock-out (literally!) performance upon hearing the "let's just be friends" talk. Miss Quill's expressive expressions tickle the funny bones and impresses singing the song's furiously fast lines.
Another impressive female performer is Sharline Liu, whether she is chirping about her dual identity as a meek-at-work, freak-in-bed co-worker in the uproarious, "Miss Byrd" to crooning a sexy Chicago-esque "Back on Base."
Liu shares the spotlight a bit with Blythe Matsui and DT Matias in the relatable "Three Friends" (who hasn't stuck around with people for awhile and then asked themselves, "why am I your friend again?) and with Matsui again in "Fandango" about a couple who keeps passing off the baby to each other.
Someone who could have used more spotlight was ensemble member EJ Arriola. This newcomer's vivid facial expressions shone through every scene he was in, whether it be crying as the giant baby to Matsui and Liu's "Fandango" or just singing in the crowd in ensemble pieces like "The March of Time" or Closer than Ever.
Sitting through twenty-two songs could feel like you're taking a road trip and listening to the same CD is playing over and over again, but the songs of Closer than Ever avoided melding together. By mixing up ballads and quick numbers, cheeky "Asian" performance props like Vietnamese rice paddy hats in "Three Friends" and pounding on imaginary taiko drums in the exercise anthem "There's Nothing like It," Lodestone kept their audiences eyes and ears comfy and satisfied.
It's nice that someone out there is working on buffing up musical theatre's reputation.
Date Posted: 9/4/2009