In theory, "Come a Little Closer" is a musical revue about New York and New Yorkers. In fact, it's a cabaret act about that ubiquitous instrument of torture, the cell phone. It's blamed for disrupting the marriage of one of the two couples in the show. It's used by everyone on a crosstown bus. But "Come a Little Closer" is never anywhere near as up to date as those "damn cell phones.".

In theory, “Come a Little Closer” is a musical revue about New York and New Yorkers. In fact, it’s a cabaret act about that ubiquitous instrument of social discord and torture, the cell phone. It’s blamed for disrupting the marriage of one of the two couples in the show. It’s used by everyone on a crosstown bus to illustrate how inarticulate cell phone users usually are, via lyrics made up of “like,” “you know” and “you know what I mean.” And it’s the instrument on which one bus rider, Joan (Diane J. Findlay), relays gossip to one of her friends, starting with a juicy tidbit about a hunky sperm donor. But “Come a Little Closer” is never anywhere near as up to date as those “damn cell phones,” smacking less of the early 21st century than of the middle of the 20th. It gives little evidence of having the oomph to propel it very far beyond the White Barn Theater.

Its composer, White Barn regular John Wallowitch, has had a lengthy career that includes current cable show “John’s Cabaret.” Over the years, he has composed either more than 1,000 or 2,500 songs, depending on your source of information. Either way, it’s a lot, which may account for the show’s score sounding overly familiar, with each song too much like the one before. Also, most of the subject matter is explored in the lyrics and the strained dialogue is too well worn.

For instance, the show’s two older women, Joan and Gwen (Leslie Easterbrook) have an all-too-familiar number, “I’m 27,” in which they admit to having been 27 for at least 25 years. We have been there before. And before that. The book supplied by director Kimothy Cruse is just plain cliched, with one marriage being disrupted by Gwen’s husband, Clarke (Steve Elmore), believing he’s fallen in love with a much younger woman, Lisa (Kristy Cates), while her marriage to artist Alex (Alden Fulcomer) is falling apart. New York quickly disappears from the scene after the opening song, and the show could be taking place anywhere or nowhere.

There’s a big flaw in the casting, too. Cates, as a most attractive Lisa, has to sing “God! He’s Attractive” about Elmore’s Clarke. But for it to work, Clarke needs to be a physically and vocally romantic stage presence, which Elmore no longer is. His singing voice, in particular, is in sorry shape, seldom on key. (One recalls such successes as his Hennessey in the 1968 Off Broadway “Dames at Sea” and his Paul in Broadway’s original 1970 “Company.”)

The whole cast is at its best when all five, or at least three, are singing together, each voice shoring up the others. Cates may have the strongest vocal presence, but Findlay and Easterbrook have their moments, though Findlay muffs big torch song “Did Anyone Ever Really Know. . .?” by swallowing many of its lyrics. Fulcomer is a bit bland, both vocally and as a presence.

The three women have a slew of costume changes, ranging, usually elegantly, from evening finery to no-nonsense street wear. The two men switch from dinner jackets to more casual gear and back.

But where “Come a Little Closer” fails most obviously is that it hasn’t made the leap from intimate cabaret piece to full theatrical staging, a leap unsupported by book, score or Cruse’s staging.

Come a Little Closer

Lucille Lortel's White Barn Theater, Westport, Conn.; 148 seats; $35 top

Production

A White Barn Theater presentation of a musical revue in two acts with music and lyrics by John Wallowitch and book by Kimothy Cruse. Directed by Cruse. Musical direction, Tim Acito.

Creative

Set and lighting, Leo B. Meyer; sound, Robert Gould; costume coordinator, Tammy Elizabeth McBride; technical director, Robert Watts; stage manager, Thomas E. Shotkin. White Barn Theater producer, Vincent Curcio; artistic supervisor, Donald Saddler. Opened Aug. 9, 2002. Reviewed Aug. 11. Running time: 1 HOUR, 25 MIN.

Cast

Joan - Diane J. Findlay Clarke - Steve Elmore Gwen - Leslie Easterbrook Alex - Alden Fulcomer Lisa - Kristy Cates
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