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Sunday, 17 June 2012 20:30

And the world goes two-thirds round

Written by Chuck Lavazzi
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The Details

insighttheatrecompany.com
insighttheatrecompany.com

Given the consistently high quality of their work, it’s somewhat surprising that the songwriting team of John Kander and Fred Ebb hasn’t had more hit shows.

Most people will recognize “Cabaret”, “Chicago”, the film “New York, New York”, and (maybe) “Kiss of the Spider Woman”, but after that you start getting into musical theatre geek territory with titles like “The Happy Time” and “Woman of the Year”.

“And The World Goes Round”, originally staged in 1991 and then revised and expanded a year later, collects thirty of the team’s best songs in a neat revue format. Insight Theatre Company is currently presenting a somewhat abridged version of the show. Nearly a third of the songs have been dropped, apparently due to the loss of a cast member late in the rehearsal period. The resulting production has a somewhat unfinished feel with abrupt transitions where numbers have been removed. Even so, the songs that remain get wonderfully polished performances from Katy Tibbets, Stephanie Long, Johanna Elkana Hale, Martin Fox, Charlie Ingram, and Peter Merideth, with assistance from choreographer Emily Fisher.

The format of “And the World Goes Round” will be familiar to anyone who has seen similar revues such as “Side by Side by Sondheim”: a bare stage with minimal props and set, no spoken dialog to speak of, and lots of music. Songs are assembled in related sets that give the evening a feeling of dramatic continuity. The unavoidable edits in this production kill some of that continuity, but it still holds together remarkably well.

The revue format gives every cast member multiple opportunities to shine, and they all do. Some of my favorite moments were Ms. Tibbets’s mastery of the changing moods of “Colored Lights” (from “The Rink”), Ms. Long’s bubbly “Arthur in the Afternoon” (from “The Act”), Mr. Ingram’s hilarious “Sara Lee” (also from “The Act” and a favorite of local cabaret artists), Ms. Hale’s jubilant “Ring Them Bells” (originally written for Liza Minnelli), Mr. Merideth’s charming “Marry Me” (from “The Rink”), and Mr. Fox’s evocation of Joel Grey in “Cabaret”. This is, in short, a very fine cast of talented young singing actors.

Director Edward Coffield keeps the show moving at a brisk pace. His staging decisions nicely illuminate character and underline the emotional core of each song without, for the most part, drawing undue attention to themselves. Using projected images to add political subtexts to a few songs is an inventive idea, and if it sometimes draws too much focus from the singers (most notably in “There Goes the Ballgame”, with its rapid montage of political losers), it can still pack a real punch. The best example of the latter is “Money Money”, with its video collage of Wall Street hustlers and “99%” protesters. Turning the protagonist of “Mr. Cellophane” into an emotionally damaged homeless man is also an effective touch, giving the song a shockingly relevant subtext.

“And the World Goes Round” is not necessarily a dancer’s show, but Ms. Fisher’s choreography is nevertheless a big plus. One hallmark of a good choreographer is the ability to make the actors look good regardless of their dancing ability. Ms. Fisher’s “Fosse lite” moves are a nice fit for this cast, even though not all of them are necessarily dancers, and they’re always appropriate to the emotional truth of each song.

Musical director Stephen Neale’s on-stage combo sounds tight and maintains a good balance with the cast’s amplified vocals. Communication with the actors is surprisingly good despite the fact that the band is placed far upstage, making visual contact difficult. Seth Jackson’s minimal sets and dramatic lighting are very effective in delineating playing areas and setting mood.

The bottom line on “And the World Goes Round” is that it’s well worth seeing, despite the edits, especially if you’re a Kander and Ebb fan. The show runs slightly over 90 minutes with intermission and runs through June 24th at the Heagney Theatre on the campus of Nerinx Hall high school at Big Bend and Lockwood in Webster Groves. For more information, you may visit insighttheatrecompany.com or call 314-556-1293.

One final note: If you have not been to the Heagney before, be aware that while parking is in on the north side of the building that houses the theatre, you’ll need to walk around the building to the east side to get in. There are no directions posted at the parking lot, so that’s not immediately obvious.

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