Arts & Events

Masquers “Closer Than Ever”—winning performances of witty musical

By John A. McMullen II
Friday June 21, 2013 - 08:34:00 AM
Lamont Ridgell, Coley Grundman. J. Scott Stewart, Michelle Pond, Shay Oglesby-Smith, Jennifer Stark
Budinger & Scarpelli
Lamont Ridgell, Coley Grundman. J. Scott Stewart, Michelle Pond, Shay Oglesby-Smith, Jennifer Stark

Like the great Bette Davis said, “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” 

“Closer Than Ever” at the Masquers Playhouse in Point Richmond is a show that would probably not appeal to those under 40 since they may not appreciate the emotional underpinnings of the themes.  

Those over 40 should rush out and buy a ticket before it ends on July 6. You won’t be sorry. 

It’s all singing—and what wonderful and complicated singing, individual and ensemble.  

Malby and Shire’s music is mellifluous if not particularly memorable, but the message is in the lyrics. They are witty and cleverly rhymed, and the themes vary from very funny to heart-breaking—that drab temp in your office who is smoldering under her smock, or an honest rage against the boyfriend who tells you he wants to be “Friends", to the heartbreak when your father can’t play the music he taught you. 

The cast includes three mainstays of Masquers musicals: Coley Grundman. Shay Oglesby-Smith, and Michelle Pond who consistently give exemplary performances. The other three relative newcomers--Lamont Ridgell, Jennifer Stark, and J. Scott Stewart—are excellent additions to the company and add great voices and expression.  

Jennifer Stark has a particularly facile and dulcet voice backed by substantial acting ability, though her high notes, while impressive, tend toward the Wagnerian rather than blending into the song. 

It is directed by the team of Peter Budinger and DC Scarpelli who have brought new life and talent to the Masquers in recent years. Anjee Norgaard provides choreography that is invigorating if sometimes overdone.  

Rather than a flow of one number into another, there are pauses between numbers while the curtain is reset and the next singers set themselves. Ordinarily, this would annoy this critic, for it usually deflates energy, but in this instance it may be a good choice by allowing the audience to reset itself for the next theme. 

Pat King’s musical direction is award-worthy. These are complex arrangements that need great attention to vocal entrances (where to come in), with multi-part harmonies, many sung while dancing. The accompanying combo consists of first-class musicians who never seem to miss. The bassist gives a stage center duet with Michelle Pond’s seductive “Back on Base.” 

The stage band is set in the middle of the stage surrounded by a periphery of platforms, ramps, and stairs that allow many levels which provides interesting stage pictures and spatial—and thereby emotional—relationships (stage design DC Scarpelli). The costumes by Tammara Plankers and Jackie Medernach are charming and subtle with changes appropriate to the many changes in theme and mood. 

The Masquers excel at small cast musicals on nearly bare stages, and this is well-worth your while. 

Masquers Playhouse at 105 Park Place, Point Richmond, CA through July 6. 

More info at