REVIEW: Close To You, Bacharach Reimagined

Close To You Opening Night. Sir Tom Jones Oliver Bacharach Jane Hansen and Burt Bacharach. Photo credit Craig Sugden. (2)

CRITERION, 22/10/15

BURT Bacharach sat in the front row of the dress circle watching his best songs more or less flamed on a musical bonfire – or “reimagined” to use the official term – and when it was done, he applauded.

More than that, when this havoc was concluded, he willingly walked with the cast of Close To You from the stage door to a grand piano set up next to Eros in Piccadilly Circus for a press gala treat and happily joined them in a rendition of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.

So who are any of us to claim that this is a murder of a show? Everybody involved can point to smiling Burt and ask what can be so wrong if the chief loves it.

It’s an unnerving mystery, though, how this Magic Moments melody maker can be so acquiescing as the soul in each of his own masterpieces is in turn sucked up in front of his, and our, eyes.

For if you admire his golden back catalogue this feels like a trap. The song titles are billed on the poster, all your faves are there, Anyone Who Had A Heart, Make It Easy On Yourself, San José, the lot. But once inside, the horns, the strings, and the downright simplicity of Bacharach’s candlelit schmaltz is replaced with chugging guitars. The cast of six, led by co-producer Kyle Riabko, might as well be playing vacuum cleaners such is the screech.

Darcey Bussell, wearing double leather and ready to rock, seemed to have been warned in advance that there would be more Kerrang than trumpet or violin. As she fidgeted like Tonioli in the row in front, however, others seemed fatigued by the lack of subtlety.

Sir Patrick Stewart did not return to his seat in the stalls after the interval, beamed up somewhere else. If he had gone home early, you couldn’t have blamed ol’ Picard. The lack of storyline in the show is fine; the crowbarred narrative in jukebox musicals can sometimes be an aggravating factor. But what the world needs now is not a set of ska, skiffle and rock and roll makeovers of these songs, which are meant to lilt and glide, not bleed static and reverb.

Worse still, they’ve been jerked about with/reimagined so much, that Riabko starts one song but before long has mashed it into a different one, garage band concoctions speckled with random cries of “wozzit all about”, the refrain from Alfie. The biggest crime may be what they do to Always Something There To Remind Me, but in the tradition of theatreland and the Mousetrap I shan’t give away whodunnit and with what. It is a shock you can only appreciate first hand.

But remember, Burt clapped. Burt liked it.

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