Timing couldn’t be better for a revival for Kathy Najimy and Steve Gunderson’s playful ode to the Bacharach-David songbook — beyond the duo’s music being back in vogue, audiences nationwide have shown a fondness for storyless revues, from Leiber & Stoller to Carole King, long on laugh-inducing and reminiscing. Tone of the show, first mounted in 1992, is wisely nonreverential, the compact staging and wide range of interpretations drawing a dividing line between the classics and the frothy, even silly, hits.
Nineteen segments comprising nearly 30 Bacharach-David numbers are delivered by the quartet of Melinda Gilb, Susie Mosher, Wanda Houston and Gunderson in a host of configurations. Fitting the trio of piano-bass-drums onstage limits group movement to very-’60s hand waves and extended arms, but the space limitations only hamper moments where some broader strokes or greater spacing of the singers could be called for. They don’t necessarily cut into the revue’s effectiveness.
The hit parade begins with familiar arrangements of “The Look of Love,” “Message to Michael” and “You’ll Never Get to Heaven” before Mosher hams up the bored and desperate subtext of “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself,” nicely filled out with a piano vamp based on “Summer Love” from “Grease.” The heaviest jokes come from two ensemble numbers: “Close to You” getting a street-corner treatment and “24 Hours From Tulsa” played as a hick and a hooker; they’re at their giddiest on the evening’s closer, “Promises, Promises.”
As soloists, each more than holds their own. Gunderson’s solo turn on “A House Is Not a Home” is dead-on in pitch and melodrama; it segues into Gilb’s “One Less Bell to Answer,” which begins inhibited and private, and blossoms into a compelling and beautiful round with the other vocalists. Mosher has a knack for inflating the emotional message visually and in her acting; Gunderson is agile at working his way through a number of songs originally sung by women; and Gilb, whose garb screams the era louder than the others, brings a substantial musical-theater presence to the evening.
The show-stopper, though, is Houston, the one cast member who wasn’t part of the run at Gotham’s Club 53 in 1992-93. She lends gospel underpinnings to songs perceived as lily white, and her energetic moves would translate in a hall five times as large as the Cinegrill. Most intriguingly, she’s equally compelling as a belter or a baby-voiced angel or a Dionne Warwick stand-in; were this show to be stretched to a fuller length, extra songs should certainly be sent her way.
Show saves its emotional gusto for the end, as a four-song medley showcases not only Bacharach’s melodic talents, but David’s incomparable way of dealing with the pain that lingers after a breakup. “Walk on By,” “Always Something There to Remind Me,” “Anyone Who’s Had a Heart” and “Don’t Make Me Over,” with a different singer leading each, create a poignant vignette unto itself, distinct from the rest of the show’s interesting pairings for its directness and emotional singlemindedness. After a romp through a litany of songs essentially created on an assembly line, Gunderson and Najimy take some of the duo’s most sublime work and put it on the mantle to glisten; as potent as the two-song medleys are, it’s this four-song collection that a) exhibits the revue’s excellent assemblage and b) documents Bacharach and David as unique masters of popular song composition.
“Back to Bacharach and David” is full of promise. Arrangements are sparse — no synthesizers trying to fill the role of Bacharach’s wonderful orchestrations — and musical director Michael Orland alternates between supplying a pianistic voice and a sturdy background from the singers. Producers brought in a spotlight, a rarity at the Cinegrill, which heightened the drama of some songs. As always, the Cinegrill is one of the best intimate venues in the city.