NEW THIS WEEK
CLOSER THAN EVER -- (Through Sept. 29 at Arena Stage's Kreeger Theater)
In this collection of clever, often brittle songs by Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire, five singers (one of whom doubles as the piano player) perform 24 songs about the possibly unmeetable demands on and needs of the modern adult. The tone is sardonic, bittersweet and -- sometimes -- sappy. "Fathers of Fathers" is a sentimental paean that doesn't quite click, while "What Am I Doin' " is a love song that should have stayed in the trunk. There is a subtle suggestion that women, who "find themselves" a lot, are more to blame than men, but males take some bashing too. There are also songs about the woes of "One of the Good Guys," the distractions of "The Sounds of Muzak" and the victims of the fitness craze (a cleverly operatic quartet called "There's Nothing Like It.") The fabulously talented Sally Mayes unleashes a voice made in musical comedy heaven, and Meg Bussert complements her nicely with a lyrical voice and the maturity to handle some of the show's more pensive numbers. Craig Wells and Louis Padilla are more superficial, with the latter having an uncanny tendency to sound like Mandy Patinkin. Pianist Patrick Scott Brady also turns out to be an adept singer. -- Megan Rosenfeld
SHOGUN, THE MUSICAL -- (Through Oct. 6 at the Kennedy Center Opera House)
With 140,000 pounds of scenery, costumes and equipment and a cast large enough to populate a small town, "Shogun, the Musical" provokes the question: When is a musical large enough to qualify for foreign aid? Especially in the case of this adaptation of James Clavell's best-selling novel, which includes a shipwreck and an earthquake -- and that's just in the first act. Basically, this is a story about John Blackthorne, an English ship captain who is shipwrecked on the coast of Japan in 1600. He finds himself in the middle of rival warlords, falls in love, loses his boat and his mistress and learns a lot about the Orient, including a few things about sex. Director Michael Smuin has attempted to marry Oriental stage techniques with American theatrical pyrotechnics, and there are many scenes in which he succeeds. A tableau of soldiers on horseback riding through the snow in the middle of the second act is breathtaking. Before that, though, there is either too much that is either out of sync or simply out of bounds for "Shogun" to join such blockbusters as "Les Mise'rables" and "The Phantom of the Opera." Peter Karrie as the strapping English captain has a fine voice but is at sea when called upon to act. Patricia Zipprodt's costumes, on the other hand, are alone almost worth the price of admission. -M.R.