Theatre Review: Close to You - Bacharach Reimagined

Date Posted: 15/10/2015

Rachel Bailey wonders how a group of just seven people can create such a magically harmonious racket.

Here’s what Close to You is not. It’s not a typical West End Musical. It’s hasn’t got a plot. And there isn’t very much acting in it. What it is, however, is a close match to a music concert – but this is no criticism.

Close to You is an hour-and-a-half-long medley of Burt Bacharach songs performed by seven awe-inspiring performers on a set that looks much like the inside of an Aladdin’s cave – think colourful rugs, chintzy lampshades and squashy sofas. 

Even if you wouldn’t recognise Bacharach by sight, you’ll know the American composer for his songs; big hits such as Alfie, Anyone Who Had a Heart, I Say A Little Prayer, and the title song Close to You are hard to escape regardless of your generation due to their longstanding popularity.

Fans of Bacharach seeing this show will not be disappointed; I tried to keep count of how many songs featured, and ran out of fingers and thumbs quickly. There are lots, and the majority of them have been refigured – or should I say, reimagined – to create a nice package of singalong tunes to celebrate the talents of both Bacharach and the cast who are performing them.

I’m ashamed to say I only recognised four or five of the songs, but this didn’t make me engage with the performance any less. If you’re considering giving Close to You a miss because you can’t name many Bacharach songs, think again. The group of performers are what make this show amazing.

Kyle Riabko. Credit Johan Persson (m).jpg

Pictured: Kyle Riabko (photo credit: Johan Persson).

The seven individuals absolutely blew me away with the sheer talent they share between them, from their vocal strength and perfect harmonies to their multi-instrument playing abilities. Each performer is equally as important in the running of the show – they’re essentially a cast, and a band, and a group of stage hands all at the same time.

Admittedly, the stand-out individuals are definitely Kyle Riabko, who is the leading male vocal on the majority of tunes (who also plays the most epic guitar solo I’ve ever seen in theatre before), and Anastacia McCleskey, whose rendition of Don’t Make Me Over had the hairs standing up on the back of my neck.

Stephanie McKeon, the only other female, is wonderful – an emotional version of Walk on By is a definite highlight; her breathy vocals contrast nicely with the deeper more soulful sound of McCleskey’s. The five men, likewise, complement each other in both the singing department and during various guitar and percussion duets/trios. And the chemistry on stage is inspiring; you’ll leave the theatre imagining that these seven people are as equally friendly off stage as they are on it.

James Williams, Rento Paris, Greg Coulson, Stephanie McKeon, Anastacia McCleskey.

Pictured: James Williams, Rento Paris, Greg Coulson, Stephanie McKeon, and Anastacia McCleskey (photo credit: Johan Persson).

The set is interesting and members of the audience can opt to have an on-stage seat on a comfy sofa (situated on each side of the performers). That’s right, up to 22 people can sit on the stage itself. Unfortunately you can only book for six people so perhaps you could draw straws if there’s a lot of you.

If I had any qualms about this new production, it’s that the songs might sound slightly outdated to some, while others might lap up the classic nature of the tunes and the nostalgia they conjure.

While I thoroughly enjoyed myself, I’m not sure if this type of ‘show’ would secure a long run in the West End. It’s currently only booking until the beginning of next year, so perhaps a short-term condensed run might be perfect.

I hope I might be proved wrong though, because the musical innovation, and sheer amount of hard work put into this show by its brilliant performers make this a welcome addition to Theatreland.

Close to You is booking at The Criterion Theatre in London until 10th January.

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