A WHOLE NEW WORLD
Musical revues are a tricky business. While highly enjoyable and entertaining, even high profile compilations like Side By Side By Sondheim and the Fats Waller song book Ain’t Misbehavin’ amount to little more than glorified cabaret shows. “Jukebox” musicals, ala Smokey Joe’s Cafe (Leiber and Stoller) and the long running Broadway smash Jersey Boys (Frankie Valli), take the format a step further and attempt to add a through story to connect the songs but the end result is the same.
When The World Goes ‘Round first premiered in the early 90′s it fell into the “revue” category. No one argued that the prolific team of Kander and Ebb was deserving of such a tribute and although the show went on to win numerous “Best Musical” awards, in the end it was basically an “and-then-they-wrote” affair. To kick off the Actors Co-op’s 21st season, director / choreographer Robert Marra has re-imagined the show and it’s a rousing success. In fact, it’s so successful that it’s hard to imagine it any other way. Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman, and David Thompson may have conceived the show way-back-when, but Marra has elevated it to a whole new level.
He has cut a few songs from the original (Chicago‘s “Class,” “Me & My Baby,” “Ring Them Bells,”—from Liza with a Z—and the title song from The Rink), shifted the order of some of the remaining ditties, set the action in the “K&E Coffee Shop,” and crafted seamless and involving story arcs for the show’s seven-member cast. The nameless characters are simply referred to as Homeless Woman (Gina D’Acciaro), Coffee Shop Girl (Kristen Heitman), Her Boyfriend (Jeremiah Lowder) and four customers: Older Man (Robert W. Laur), Business Man (Michael D’Elia), Socialite (Carrie Madsen), and Housewife (Selah Victor).
Mr. Marra has created a magical and mystical pastiche that is reminiscent of the feeling one gets when viewing Edward Hopper’s iconic painting Nighthawks. The audience is transfixed as they are invited to eavesdrop on the lives before them. Without the aid of the written word, he simply allows the music to tell the tale. Taken out of their original context, the songs are experienced in a new and revealing way unburdened by plot and allowed to soar. It brings new appreciation to the wit, wisdom, and brilliance that has made Kander and Ebb legendary.
Of course all this “re-imagining” would fall flat in the hands of bad performers. Simply possessing the knowhow to hit the right notes is not enough; the actors must embody the lyrics and bring them to life. Fortunately Marra has assembled an excellent group of artists. While they may not be the most exemplary singers, they all have very good voices; what they might lack in technical proficiency and vocal power, they more than make up for with their ability to interpret the words and truly sell the song.
Under the musical direction of Michael Brill with accompaniment by Jon Greathouse (keyboards), Kevin Chown (bass) and Ray Frisby (drums/percussion) the septet warbles away without a microphone in sight. It is a real pleasure to just hear the human voice in its natural habitat sans artificial amplification.
D’Acciaro is the only true belter in the group and she hammers home the show’s title song (from the film New York, New York) with great commitment.. A trifecta of the boys’ early collaboration, sung at first individually and then in concert with each other, is particularly affecting (Streisand’s “My Coloring Book” (Heitman), The Happy Times’ “I Don’t Remember You,” (Lowder) and Woman of the Year‘s “Sometimes a Day Goes By” (Laur)). D’Elia provides the comic relief in the old school Buster Keaton-style and shines during his renditions of Chicago’s “Mr. Cellophane” (although his encounter with an actual roll of cellophane wrap was a bit too literal for my liking) and the usually ominous ode “Kiss of the Spiderwoman.” That’s right, “Spiderwoman” with laughs! Madsen also shines in her interpretation of “Colored Lights” from The Rink.
Speaking of colored lights, Bill E. Kickbush’s lighting design is the perfect mood-setter and the set by scenic designer Andy Hammer is first-rate. What he has accomplished with his inside/outside coffee shop motif is amazing and gives the director the flexibility to utilize entrances all around the theater and to maximize the restricted space to fully bring his vision to life.
The encore finale features the entire cast and a spinning globe. As they randomly stop the world from going ’round they sing in the language of the country they have landed on. Alright, so it’s not so random, but it does exemplify not only the worldwide appeal of Kander & Ebb’s music but also the universal truths in their work.
Part musical revue, part “Jukebox” musical and part theatrical magic, The World Goes Round offers the perfect way to reacquaint yourself with familiar favorites (“Cabaret,” “All That Jazz”) and discover lesser known gems like “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup” from 70, Girls, 70. And to that I say, ”How Lucky Can You Get” (Funny Lady)!
photos by Lindsay Schnebly
The World Goes ‘Round
Actors Co-op at the Crossley Theatre in Hollywood (Los Angeles Theater)
scheduled to end on October 14, 2012
for tickets, call (323) 462-8460 or visit http://www.ActorsCo-op.org