Composer: John Kander
Lyricist: Fred Ebb
Director: Lotte Wakeham
Musical Director: Neil MacDonald
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Mark Fisher’s programme note does this show somewhat of a disservice. He writes, “They did it with Singin’ in the Rain….And they did it with And the World Goes Round…” To be fair to Fisher, his specific point of comparison is that both recycle existing songs to create a new work, but any comparison with Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s masterly script is bound to produce disappointment.
In The World Goes Round (which seems to have shed the “And” in recent productions) Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman, and David Thompson make no attempt to create a real storyline or set of characters. Essentially, five performers sing some 30 of the songs of John Kander and Fred Ebb – getting through so many songs in 100 minutes of stage time suggests how little dialogue there is and how few extended production numbers there are.
However, it is much more than just a concert of the Kander-Ebb Songbook. Snatches of the title song link the evening together. Love songs from The Rink, Cabaret and Funny Lady or The Happy Time and Woman of the Year intertwine to poignant effect. Instant characterisation (aided by Simon Kenny’s simple and immediately identifiable costumes) gives us sharp little vignettes between Phoebe Fildes’ star and Laura Jane Matthewson’s housewife in The Grass is Always Greener or the same two performers tumbling drunkenly and raucously into Class.
Ensemble numbers, never unduly extended, find all five carried away by the pace of modern urban life in the relatively unknown Coffee in a Cardboard Cup (the mix of well-known and obscure songs is neatly handled), rolling around The Rink with various degrees of competence and encoring with a cleverly multi-lingual New York, New York.
The mix of love songs, torch songs, wry New York satires and jolly 1920s pastiches leaves the cast unfazed, though some singers seem to misjudge the acoustic at times. Not so Nigel Richards who has so many of the memorable solo turns of the evening: from the uproarious serenade to cakes, Sara Lee, to the bitter-sweet comedy of Mr. Cellophane. Only Shona White points a lyric with the same assurance. The quintet is completed by Ashley Samuels with some nicely affecting vocals and stylish physical acting.
Lotte Wakeham accelerates the pace as the evening progresses. She tends to keep it simple in terms of stage activity. Surprisingly, no choreographer is credited which inspires fears of a major outbreak of Bob Fosse stylings. She resists this, though a pretty big hint of Fosse is unavoidable in All that Jazz, initially delivered by Shona White slinking her way through the audience.
Neil MacDonald’s piano accompaniment is outstanding, though a fuller accompaniment would have been welcome at times. Kenny’s wedding cake layers of a set change character under Jason Taylor’s canny lighting. As for the songs, My Colouring Book, an early one-off composition for Barbra Streisand, comes over superbly, but otherwise, both halves are a bit bottom heavy; we have to wait a long time for gems from Chicago and Cabaret.
Runs until 3 September2016 | Image: Tony Bartholomew/Turnstone Media