Writers: Devised by Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman and David Thompson
Music: John Kander
Lyrics: Fred Ebb
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
When asked to think of musicals by John Kander and Fred Ebb, most people will immediately think of their two most perennial successes, Chicago and Cabaret. The latter may inspire some to also think of their collaborations with Liza Minnelli, for whom they wrote several numbers for her Liza with a Z one-woman show and who starred in several of their stage musicals. But despite the breadth and depth in evidence in their big-hitting shows, their full back catalogue is groaning at the seams with excellent compositions that deserve their time in the spotlight.
The revue The World Goes Round was created in the early 1990s to celebrate this lucrative song-writing partnership, and as an exploration of a writing team’s creative history together it’s hard to beat it for structure, pace and a mix of the familiar with the less well-known songs. This current production, performed at the Pheasantry for just four nights, is pared down in terms of orchestra (musical director Kris Rawlinson being joined by just a bassist, Adam Smith, and percussionist David Talisman), but with strong vocal performances form a quintet led by Debbie Kurup and Oliver Tompsett, there is no reduction in quality.
After opening with And the World Goes Round, the number that gives the revue its title, the first segment of Act I concentrates on lighter numbers, especially the ensemble’s rendition of comedy song Coffee in a Cardboard Cup, whose caffeinated protestations about the speed modern consumers demand feels as if it were written today, not over 40 years ago. Similarly, Steffan Lloyd-Evans’s paean to mass-market desserts, Sara Lee, is a riot of comedy and cake. But even as Alexandra Da Silva recites the tales of her failed relationships in Coloured Lights – or would, if she could ever remember the guys’ names – there is the sense of emotional heartbreak that Kander and Ebb do so well, which leads up to a stunningly beautiful rendition of ‘My Colouring Book’ by Kurup.
No Kander and Ebb tribute could ever ignore Chicago entirely, and a sequence of numbers from that show demonstrate why it is the songwriting duo’s most successful work. From the blowsy brass of All That Jazz, complete with as many nods to Bob Fosse’s oft-imitated choreography as a quintet can accomplish on a tiny stage which affords them no space, there is a sense of being on familiar ground. And yet, shorn of the show’s narrative frame, we see how strong the individual numbers can be: Lloyd-Evans is particularly impressive as his Mr. Cellophane sings of a man who finds himself constantly being overlooked.
The second act continues the high quality, with Da Silva delivering a barnstorming ‘Ring Them Bells’, to be followed a few songs later by its virtual counterpoint, Sally Samad’s lyrical rendition of A Quiet Thing. Tompsett’s rendition of Kiss of the Spider Woman makes one yearn for more from this underrated musical, while Kurup and Da Silva bring down the house with their rat-a-tat-tat delivery of two women envious of each other’s lives in The Grass is Always Greener.
As with Chicago in Act I, Cabaret forms the focal point of the second act, from the defiance of Maybe This Time delivered powerfully by Kurup, to the full company’s wonderfully exuberant performance of Money, Money.
By the time a reprise of the revue’s title number and an encore of New York, New York roll around, this superb revue comes to an end far too soon. But what it does do is demonstrate that, as deserved of success their two most well-known musicals are, there is far, far more to Kander and Ebb than just Cabaret and Chicago. Theirs is a back catalogue which producers in search of a revival should choose to raid a bit more often.
Runs until Weds 8th July | Photo: Bonnie Britain