Anyone who saw this show based on the music of Burt Bacharach at it’s brief but successful run at the Menier Chocolate Factor back in July (when it was then called What’s It All About: Bacharach Reimagined) shouldn’t be surprised that it has been awarded a West End transfer and now replaces the long-running The 39 Steps at the Criterion Theatre.
The show originated at the New York Theatre Workshop back in 2013 and is the brainchild of musician and actor Kyle Riabko — he starred in both Hair and multi Tony-winning Spring Awakening on Broadway.
Along with collaborator David Lane Seltzer, Kyle has, with Burt Bacharach’s blessing it’s important to add, taken the astonishing back catalogue of this great composer and created a joyous and thoroughly exhilarating celebration of his work.
Close To You: Bacharach Reimagined is actually more concert than it is musical theatre because there isn’t any real narrative to speak of. What scenario there is sees a group of friends (including Kyle Riabko) just hanging out and singing some songs together. It’s all comes across as wonderfully laid-back and easy going thanks to director Steven Hoggett’s deceptively simple but brilliantly effective staging. And the show is a prefect fit for the small and intimate Criterion Theatre — if you really want to chill out and take full advantage of the immersive experience, try and grab one of the twenty or so on-stage seats.
The songs, over thirty in all, are mostly given new arrangements by Riabko and his work, which often involves blending two or more numbers together is really quite inspired and in some cases, dare I say, an improvement on the originals. No, really.
But what a body of work Bacharach has given him to play with: 'Anyone Who Had a Heart', 'I Say a Little Prayer', 'Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head', 'Make It Easy On Yourself', 'Do You Know The Way To San Jose?' Yeah, I know, the list just goes on and on.
The company here is made up of seven hugely accomplished singers and multi instrumentalists who make a terrific unit — there’s real tangible chemistry between them as they share some delicious harmonies.
Particularly fine work comes from Stephanie McKeon, who originated the role of Natalie in The Commitments, and Anastacia McCleskey (another Broadway veteran from shows such as Book of Mormon and Hair), who gives a passionate and heartfelt turn on 'Don’t Make Me Over'. And Riabko himself takes a stunning solo slot with a haunting rendition of Alfie. But mostly it’s about the group dynamic and that works superbly well.
The audience on the night I went was mainly made up of older people, some of whom looked on a rather disapprovingly when Kyle got a bit too enthusiastic with his electric guitar. But it would be a shame if Close To You only attracts those who remember these songs from first time round because if this show has a message at all it’s that quality doesn’t age and hopefully it will go a long way in introducing Burt Bacharach’s work to a new generation.
Please note: Opinions expressed on the londontheatredirect.com blog are those of the relevant contributors, not of London Theatre Direct Ltd, its owners or staff. London Theatre Direct Ltd is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by contributors.