A Peek Behind Their "Doors": Closer Than Ever Songwriters Maltby & Shire Revisit Their Classic Musical Revue

By Harry Haun
19 Jun 2012

Jenn Colella and bass player Danny Weller in the York Theatre production.
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Songs from Maltby & Shire marriages never meant for public consumption are even used. "I originally wrote 'There's Something About a Wedding' for Richard's last wedding, and he wanted to put words to it," Shire notes. "I said, 'You can't put lyrics to that. It's an instrumental melody. It has a two-octave range.' Richard said, 'Oh, yes, I can,' and he did, and I think that it adds a nice touch to the show." It's one of two new numbers in Closer Than Ever.

Shire, first wed to actress Talia Shire, collaborated with the second Mrs. Shire, singer-actress Didi Conn, on "Another Wedding Song (The First To Be Second)," which they sang at their wedding. "It was not intended to be in a show or anything. It was just a kind of wedding present to ourselves and to the people we invited."

Which comes first with these two — the words or the music? "We work both ways," Shire admits. In other words and music, it depends: If a song is lyric-led, the music accommodates; if it has a strong melodic line (at which Shire shines), words bend.

"Richard likes to have music first whenever he can because he tends to fall into doggerel when he's writing without music. And when I'm setting a lyric, I tend to lose my original idea. Richard likes writing music better than I like writing lyrics."

Adds Maltby: "What we do is discuss the thing. When it hits, David usually writes the melody, then we work over the melody to make sure it's got the character in it. After that, I feel like the lyric's already there — except then I have to go home and write it."

Lynne Wintersteller in the original production.
photo by Carol Rosegg

"Some of the lyrics we work over very carefully together," admits Shire. A poignant case in point is "If I Sing," cites Maltby. "It's about the fact that both David and I are both sons of orchestra leaders, and we both can trace things in our lives that we got from our fathers — not because our fathers sat down and taught us something but just because, of what they loved, that love and passion passed through us."

The song was half-finished when Maltby left for London to do the lyrics for Miss Saigon and Shire shuffled off to Buffalo to spend time with his elderly dad whose hands had grown so numb he couldn't, for the first time in his life, play the piano. But his son could and, in a passing-the-torch fashion, played him the melody for the fathers' song. When Shire told Maltby this story, the latter said, "That's the second verse!" The lyric changed in mid-creation, from Maltby's father to Shire's.

Shire collaborated on that lyric and also wrote the words to "Back on Base," but mostly he contents himself with just writing music — which extends to film scores as well and film songs like his Oscar-winning "It Goes Like It Goes" from "Norma Rae."