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Closer Than Ever

Posted October. 27, 2006 06:59,   


More than anything, the musical “Closer Than Ever” aspires to be a theater-version of the television sitcom “Friends.” It deals with three single men and three single women in their late twenties to early thirties discovering friendship and love while living in the city.

The original, which appeared first in 1989 on off-Broadway in the U.S. where it became popular, was completely abridged. The original screenplay was without a clear plot, just 24 songs constituting a revue (a musical with no lines, just songs), but the Korean version inserted lines and enriched the story. Instead of the ages of the original characters that ranged from the late thirties to the mid-fifties, the new characters are younger, effectively changing the focus from the ups and downs of middle age to youthful love. There is the 33-year-old vet and college friend Joon-hee, tough single mom and divorcee Jin-hee, village office worker Sook-hee. They weave friendship and spouses into the same fabric, with Joon-hee’s fiancée Kyung-shin, Jin-hee’s querulous writer boyfriend Young-min, and the love of Sook-hee’s village office life, Sae-rom. Sook-hee and Sae-rom draw laughs especially, because of their mismatched ages.

Music in the original was given more weight, but in the Korean performance, the acting stands out. If you’re a fan of Ryu Jung-han, seeing him so close in front of a small theater stage is better than what “Dr. Jekyl and Hyde” or “Man of Lamancha” had to offer. Ryu does a decent job of pulling off comedy, and his steady acting and singing led the performance. The up-and-coming new musical star Goh Young-bin needs to work on polishing his acting skills to the level of his refined looks.

The idea of putting in drama to drastically change the unfamiliar Revue form in the original was a good one, but when the musical reaches its climax there’s just something unnatural about transition from lines to song. Also, to put in more lines took up more time, so the 2 hours and 20 minutes of running time is a bit heady for a little theater. Nonetheless, the delightful curtain calls finished off the play with great éclat. A tip for Ryu and Goh fans out there, if you want a caress and an inviting wink from these two actors, grab the front seats right in the middle.