BWW Review: THE WORLD GOES 'ROUND Kander and Ebb Style for Reprise 2.0
Somewhere between its opening of SWEET CHARITY in late June and the end of July, Reprise 2.0 postponed its second scheduled production of its inaugural season, VICTOR/VICTORIA. In its place, the company has mounted a revival of Kander & Ebb's musical revue, THE WORLD GOES 'ROUND, and, while it isn't a rarely revived book musical, which has always been Reprise's focus in the past, it does contain a score derived from some of the best songs in the classic Kander & Ebb catalogue (think CHICAGO and CABARET).
Director Richard Israel sets the revue in a chic upscale nightclub where five singers decked out in evening wear reflect on life and love in the familiar cabaret style. Backing them, and placed on stage in full view, are musical director Gerald Sternbach and his 7-piece all-male orchestra. It's a rare opportunity to watch the musicians in action along with the singers, and a hallmark of Reprise's singular style.
Israel's production is impressively sleek, with comedy in the movement, courtesy of his and choreographer John Todd's creative tongue-in-cheek approach, and a winning cast of five distinct personalities: Dawnn Lewis, Valerie Perri, Larry Cedar, Kelley Dorney, and Michael Starr. Todd does a nice job of adding choreography for "singers who move" plus a couple of specialties for those with a little more dance training, but the big focus is on the singing.
Each cast member brings a unique quality to the show, with Lewis and Perri as the doyennes of the group commiserating about the deterioration of morals and manners in the entertaining duet "Class" from CHICAGO and acknowledging their individual longings in emotionally-rich solos. Lewis uses a hard brassy belt on the opening title song "And the World Goes 'Round" from NEW YORK, NEW YORK and an even stronger power belt on "Maybe This Time" from CABARET to convey her determined resilience, while Perri loses herself in the poignant and fragile memories of "Isn't This Better" from FUNNY LADY and THE RINK's "Colored Lights."
That particular number shows off a gorgeous lighting effect by Jared A. Sayeg in which colored lights are sprayed across the stage ending with a pink spotlight on Perri and a brilliant rainbow of colors suspended over her. It's one of a number of breathtaking effects Sayeg creates where lighting takes on the function of a living, breathing character in its own right but he never overplays it.
In lesser hands, the lighting for a song like the title number from KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN would most likely replicate a spider web but instead Sayeg only suggests it. He uses a geometric pattern that doesn't hit you over the head but still effectively adds a mysterious vibe to the song. It's elegant and refined work that balances subtlety with front-and-center concepts to create a big impact.
His lighting also makes scenic designer Stephen Gifford's sophisticated nightclub set look expensive. Ornate openwork wood panels hang above the orchestra, which is positioned on an elevated platform behind the singers and framed with a warm cutout railing. The wall-to-wall stairs and floorshow area in front of it are where the singers strut their stuff.
When not performing, cast members watch the show while seated at one of two cocktail tables on either side of the stage, along with the audience. The illusion is of an intimate setting that opens up to sustain the larger emotional worlds contained in the music with only a change in Sayeg's lighting. As a team, Gifford and Sayeg are hard to beat. If there was such a thing as the "Dynamic Duo" of Design, they'd be breaking out their superhero capes on a regular basis and saving visual atrocities on stages from Gotham to the City of Angels nightly.
An energetic Dorney is most effective when she plays it simple, as she does for her best song of the night, "A Quiet Thing" from FLORA, THE RED MENACE. Starr's high notes are a stretch but it almost doesn't matter. He's the bare-chested beefcake that makes Perri's life worth living in "Arthur in the Afternoon" from THE ACT, a little-known star vehicle Kander & Ebb wrote for Liza Minelli that won her a Tony Award. It's unlikely you'll remember anything else he's done in the show after he takes his shirt off but that, of course, is the point.
Cedar's easy manner as a singer (and yes, dancer) is beautifully understated, which makes a pleasing contrast to the belting and fast-paced attack in many of the other songs. His love song to pastries - "Sara Lee," also from THE ACT - is priceless. In "We Can Make It" from THE RINK, he plays it smooth and lets the lyricism of the song inspire the audience. And in his most recognizable solo - "Mr. Cellophane" from CHICAGO - he again uses his natural charm to gain empathy without turning the song into a big presentational number.
Five soloists with five different vocal styles means the blend doesn't always gel when they sing together but it is the solos and small numbers that make the show memorable and, in their own corners, each artist excels.
It's also great to hear these lesser-known Kander & Ebb songs infused with so much life, since the musicals themselves aren't often produced. Perhaps there is a NEW YORK, NEW YORK, FUNNY LADY or WOMAN OF THE YEAR waiting in the wings to be produced on the west coast at some point. For now, Reprise's THE WORLD GOES 'ROUND is as close as you'll get to hearing the songs that made Kander & Ebb famous in a theatrical setting.
THE WORLD GOES 'ROUND
September 5 - 16, 2018
Reprise 2.0 at UCLA's Freud Playhouse
UCLA - North Campus
245 Charles E. Young E Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90095
Tickets and info: 800-982-2787 or www.Reprise2.org
Photo credit: Michael Lamont