But there are number of equally compelling reasons -- aside from the pair's instantly memorable melodies and smartly crafted lyrics -- for the enterprise's current success. To begin, there's Maltby's simple but sprightly direction in which he guides his exemplary cast -- Jenn Collela, George Dvorsky, Christiane Noll, and Sal Viviano -- smoothly across James Morgan's simple, door-filled set for a little over two hours.
With its two dozen or so songs veering from the sharply dramatic to the slyly comic, and characters that need to be created in an instant with little help from props or costumes (the clothing here is by Nicole Wee), the show requires a quartet of performers with enormous versatility. Fortunately, this group not only delivers time after time, but many will also consider it an added bonus to hear these wonderful voices unamplified.
Blessed with a crystalline yet forceful soprano, a highly expressive face, and the instincts of a superior actress, Noll scores strongest with the work's true character songs, including a heartbreaking take on "Patterns" (originally cut from the musical Baby), about a woman stuck in a literal and figurative rut, and "Life Story," the musings of a middle-aged "liberated" woman wondering if she should have stayed married.
The glorious-voiced and handsome Dvorsky brings enormous pathos to "If I Sing," a man's tribute to his father's musical legacy, and comic brio to "I'll Get Up Tomorrow Morning"; while Colella, with her unique mix of sass, grit, and sex appeal, is ideally suited to both "Miss Byrd," in a which a seemingly mousy real estate broker reveals her inner fire, and the jazzy, sultry "Back on Base." In addition, she and Noll expertly reveal the depths of "It's Never That Easy/I've Been Here Before."
Viviano is consistently fine, and has his strongest moments on "One of the Good Guys," a happily married husband's quiet contemplation on what might have been, and joining Dvorsky and musical director Andrew Werle on the haunting "Fathers of Fathers."
Maltby has wisely done minimal updating to his lyrics, and the clearest indication of the show's 2012 setting is a proliferation of iPhones as props. But having a group of performers who are considerably older than their original Off-Broadway counterparts (Lynne Winterstellar, Sally Mayes, Richard Muenz, and Brent Barrett) adds a level of poignancy to the numbers.
The fact that audiences who saw the show first time, like myself, are also more than two decades older may also add its own level of understanding to some of the lyrics. Indeed, when the cast, in tandem, sings "I Wouldn't Go Back" at the close of both acts -- an acknowledgment that the past, good and bad, has shaped one's present irrevocably -- it seems almost impossible not to nod one's head in agreement, if not just sing along.
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