Close to You
13 December 2016 (Sun), West End
A tribute to Burt Bacharach with songs presented in modern arrangements. There was no book, and while it did have guided movement and direction, it was basically a glorified concert. The set felt like a reworking of Sunny Afternoon with many objects (here, guitars and furniture) piled up on wall like a huge collage. Actors sat on chairs suspended in midair for a deft and magical opening. The adept staging and choreography kept the singers moving fluidly. In one memorable moment, a woman with a guitar hanging from her neck is joined by the main singer, who slowly embraces her and then plays the guitar behind her back while they dance. The group numbers were also well done. I could have done without some of the attempts at profundity like the multiple letter-reading, where less would have been more (though I did like when they tore up the letters and scattered the scraps like snow). My interest lessened considerably as the music got louder and more electric at one point, and I wondered if I was going to have to leave at intermission. But fortunately that only lasted a few numbers. The show made a good case for new interpretations, successfully wresting the songs from Dionne Warwick’s versions (though those remain definitive). Superb lighting effects helped tremendously in creating and sustaining the atmosphere.
As I noticed in Bacharach’s concert in Tokyo back when, his songs with Hal David were markedly better in quality than everything else, even as here with just the melodies (the sole exception was an interesting song called “Mexican Romance” with lyrics by Bob Hilliard). Kyle Riabko, who conceived, arranged and starred in the show, had, in addition to a great voice, an affable personality and easy-going banter. He was easily the show’s best asset. Others were fine if interchangeable, mainly instrumentalists (other than the usual black gospel-like singer) but singing nicely when called on. There was a general laid-back feeling that suited the occasion. One unusual happening was a cast change after intermission, when the one really cute female cast member was replaced by a generic singer. Ah, well. My favorite moments in the show were a wonderful “Don’t Make Me Over” and, maybe not surprisingly, the final “Raindrops” with just a small acoustic guitar and the familiar arrangement. But it was fun to hear all the songs again, especially when Riabko was playing. I’ll keep a lookout for the CD.