Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, January 2003
The World Goes ‘Round is a revue of the music of Kander and Ebb. The amassing of songs by a particular composer/lyricist/team or made famous by a certain star or all on a common theme seems to be a very popular form of theatrical entertainment these days, and I am not quite sure why. While the form is pure theatre, it is more of a concert than anything else – a concert which strips the songs presented of the show or star that made them famous in the first place. This is a form of theatre which places a huge burden on the performers, choreographers, directors, etc. to make the audience remember why they loved this music. In amateur hands, this is a form of theatre which can be embarrassing to watch.
Thank God the cast on stage at the Ghent Playhouse is NOT amateur. Many of these performers can and do earn their living as singers. They are as attractive and talented an ensemble as any community theatre could hope to assemble, and there is not an embarrassing moment to be seen.
Best known at this moment for their 1975 “failure” Chicago, and for all time for their mega-hits Cabaret and the song New York, New York, John Kander and Fred Ebb actually have a considerable resume of shows and have had a presence on Broadway (both separately and together) and in the movies and popular music since the late 1950s. They’re the last of the classic teams to still be active in the theatre. But unlike, say, Rodgers and Hammerstein or Lerner and Loewe, only a few songs of their songs are immediately recognizable by non-theatre aficionados.
This revue of their music, created by Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman, and David Thompson, has been around since 1991 when it was a big hit off-Broadway. Unlike some examples of this art form that I have had to sit through recently, The World Goes ‘Round, thankfully makes no attempt at injecting dialogue, storyline, or character into the proceedings. Each song is allowed to stand on its own, with the performer or group on stage allowed to create a sense of character and mood appropriate for each number.
And, until the very end, there are not a lot of songs that you have heard over and over and over again, allowing theatre buffs and casual patrons to discover the over-arching talent of this team of Kennedy Center honorees.
Director Dianne Hobden and musical director Paul Leyden have enabled their talented ensemble to take good advantage of the structure of the show. Two stunning ladies – Sally McCarthy and Amy Fiebke – get to torch it up in several numbers, while Cathy Lee-Visscher handles the comic female roles with a delightfully twisted preppy persona. The diminutive Maria Lally Clark shows her range being wistfully touching one minute and drop-dead funny the next without missing a note. Tom Detwiler, resplendent in black leather and gold satin, brings a wry pathos to some of the male comic turns, while Steven Leifer’s fine, operatically trained voice handles the ballads. Richard B. Lapo, Jr., a piano-tuner by trade, shares Clark’s chameleon-like ability to be touching or funny on demand. I am always intrigued to see someone, male or female, portray the opposite sex, and Lapo does this trick very well. Behind the bar, the non-singing Paul Murphy gets to strut his stuff a bit as a daytime gigolo named Arthur.
I wish these good folks could dance as well as they can sing and act, but you can’t have everything and the tight quarters on the stage in Ghent don’t really allow for kicking up your heels without running the risk of kicking your fellow performers in the teeth. Stephen Bolte, a gentleman who I love to watch on stage, has made a good attempt at the choreography, but it is this production’s weakest link.
All this singing is backed by a live five-piece band, who are so good that you forget that they are there. I understand that their presence was made possible by grant funding, which is a very good thing.
No credit is given in the program for the handsome set and fine lighting, but kudos to those responsible. Joanne Maurer, who must be the busiest costumer this side of the Hudson, gets credit for the funky seventies look to the show. While she has selected outfits that fit, flatter, and accurately evoke the era, I do wish she had given the ladies clothes that were easier to dance in.
I am sure that you will have your own favorite numbers from this show. Being a Word Woman, I tend to like the novelty songs like Ring Them Bells and Class where Ebb gets to show off his Yale education in the clever and witty lyrics. And I was very glad the show concluded with that best of all musical salutes to my hometown New York, New York. The Columbia Civic Players warn that the finale of Act I has to be seen to be believed. I concur with that statement and will not divulge here the daring feat the cast performs. You’ll just have to go see for yourself!
The World Goes ‘Round is being performed by the Columbia Civic Players at the Ghent Playhouse on January 31, February 1 and 2, and February 7-9. Shows begin at 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 pm on Sundays. Tickets are $15 for evening performances and $14 for matinees, and students and seniors get a $1 discount. The show runs two hours and ten minutes with one intermission, and is suitable for all ages, although the lack of plot or dialogue may make it boring for younger theatre-goers.
The Ghent Playhouse is located just off of Rt. 66 on Town Hall Road, near the firehouse, in Ghent, New York. For tickets and information call the box office at 518-392-6264.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2003