Close to You: Bacharach Reimagined

If you grew up in the 1970s it was almost compulsory to know the music of Burt Bacharach and lyrics of Hal David - Alfie, Anyone Who Had a Heart, Look of Love and What the World Needs Now sit resplendent within their hefty songbook as within the psyches of several generations of fans. Bacharach & David were a team. Like Rogers & Hammerstein or Benny & Bjorn. So it is puzzling as to why Close to You is only Bacharach reimagined, without David, whose specter is consequently never far away. Developed by Kyle Riabko with the blessing of Bacharach himself Close to You is an unashamed revelling in the joy of the Bacharach repertoire, aided and abetted by a young cast of terrific actors/musicians/singers. The vocals and harmonies were technically brilliant throughout; the group made up of Riabko (who wrote the arrangements), Renato Paris, Stephanie McKeon, Anastacia McCleskey, James Williams, Daniel Bailen and Greg Coulson, were a close ensemble both vocally and physically and showed admirably diverse instrument skills. Williams’s super-nimble percussion in particular energised many of the numbers. Christine Jones and Brett J Banakis’s set was a cosy sofa-edged space yet busy with the muddle of instruments forming the backdrop; inspired design let down by the vision of gaffa tape and cushions in the back of the piano, seen as it wended its way round the revolving stage.

this immersive, highly-charged performance of Bacharach’s music delighted most; the performers had fun, the audience had fun, and sometimes that’s all that’s required for a great night out.

The Bacharach songbook is far bigger than one show can handle; this is perhaps why so many songs were merged, which proved frustrating when a particular favourite suddenly became something else. A mere Burt-on-45 sideshow in the style of the Fun Song Factory. But among the songs performed in their entirety, McCleskey’s goose-bumpingly pleading Don’t Make Me Over was the true highlight of the show. Bacharach wrote for women with exceptional vocal ranges; McCleskey’s soaring vocals grabbed the soul and squeezed hard. The cheery skiffle version of Windows of the World was delivered with a misjudged lack of pathos needed to sing such lines as “...men cannot be friends, their quarrel often ends where some have to die...” It may be that the depth of emotion written into that, and many other apparently light-as-soufflé Bacharach & David songs is simply lost within this era of people weened on a diet of sugar, Glee and reality television. Walk On By worked well with a country lilt, and though the rocky What’s New Pussycat gained a standing ovation, no knickers were thrown. Riabko’s spotlight solo, a pared-back acoustic Alfie, whilst played and sung with technical aplomb, lacked the necessary heart-squeezing poignancy and he appeared smug. Is it that this uber-talented, handsome young man might just be on the wrong end of the song?

Is it a gig? Or a piece of musical theatre? Unlike many jukebox musicals, there was no cheesy storyline to stitch the songs together, though the thread line “What’s it all about...” became an oft-repeated irritation. Yet this immersive, highly-charged performance of Bacharach’s music delighted most; the performers had fun, the audience had fun, and sometimes that’s all that’s required for a great night out. If anything, Close to You will reawaken a desire to visit different arrangements with a possible diversion to the Shangri La of Lost Horizon. And that’s no bad thing.

Reviews by Sarah McIntosh

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Directed by Oliver Award winner Steven Hoggett, performed by a young group of multi-talented musicians and led by the visionary composer and performer Kyle Riabko. the show features thrillingly fresh yet beautifully faithful re-interpretations of Bacharach's classic songs.

Fall in love with Bacharach all over again in a dynamic, uplifting and magical journey through over 30 classic hits including: ALFIE, ANYONE WHO HAD A HEART, I SAY A LITTLE PRAYER, WALK ON BY, RAINDROPS KEEP FALLING ON MY HEAD, WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT? And, of course, CLOSE TO YOU.