The World Goes ’Round
In 1991, when the musical revue "The World Goes ’Round" premiered Off-Broadway, it was widely praised as a supreme offering in its genre, winning several richly deserved awards and spawning a beloved touring edition.
The production was blessed by an eclectic song score culled from the wide-ranging Broadway musicals from the underrated team of composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb ("Cabaret," "Chicago," "Kiss of the Spider Woman," "Zorba") who also did stellar work in television ("Liza With a Z"), films ("Funny Lady," "New York New York"), pop recordings ("My Coloring Book") and even a funny TV-commercial jingle ("Sara Lee").
The indelible musical legacy of Kander and his late partner has always been the true star of this revue, but ensuring its smash success in the original production were the brilliant staging concepts of Scott Ellis, David Thompson, and then-little known choreographer Susan Stroman ("The Producers," "Contact").
Regional productions surface from time to time, but never seem to match the magic of that original staging. Trying to slavishly recreate the original creative conceit -- which favored clever groupings of songs with similar themes rather than a throughline -- is perhaps not advisable.
But the breadth of the original experience (including a spectacular ballet medley and a smashing roller-skate number from "The Rink") played a major part in making it so special. It’s understandable that certain changes must be made to suit the talents of separate casts and companies.
It also seems value could be added by incorporating standout songs from later K&E shows (such as "Steel Pier," "The Visit," "Curtains," and especially their career-crowning "The Scottsboro Boys"), but licensing issues would need to be resolved.
To put his own stamp on the show, director-choreographer Robert Marra has cut some numbers and rearranged the order of some. He also attempts to link all of the songs with a minimal story-set in a contemporary urban coffee shop. He aims to reflect on the ups and downs of romance and changes of fortune in life as the "world goes ’round." His efforts result in an entertaining show, featuring some solid performers, but the attempt to unify the diverse material is largely contrived and illogical.
The original intent of many of the songs sometimes seems at odds with the peculiar places that Marra’s interpretations take them. Marra’s concepts sometimes feel like a disservice to the original qualities of the music and lyrics. The clearest example of this is the campy treatment given to the soaring title song from "Kiss of the Spider Woman," as performer Michael D’elia, playing a nerdy businessman, goes ga-ga over a glamorous socialite (Carrie Madsen) in a loopy dream sequence.
This is far from the dramatic and hair-raising impact of the song in its intended context in the musical, where its tightly integrated music and lyrics made dramatic sense. The seams show in this awkward use of the material.
Some links between characters and songs are clearer than others. It’s not until the end that we learn why a middle-aged man (Robert W. Laur, in extremely soft voice) sits upstage warbling melancholy love songs, and by the time we find out why, it’s of little consequence.
Faring better in rueful love songs, such as "We Can Make It," is Jeremiah Lowder as he pines for his girlfriend, the café waitress (sweet-voiced Kristen Heitman, at her best in "Maybe This Time" from "Cabaret"). Some gags are genuine groaners, most notably, the huge roll of cellophane accompanying D’elia’s plaintive rendition of "Mr. Cellophane’ (from "Chicago").
Gina D’Acciaro is a strong performer with a powerful voice, very effective in her reprises of "The World Goes ’Round" (from "New York New York"), as she takes the role of a despondent bag lady lurking around the café. She sheds that guise for one terrific number, Barbra Streisand’s showstopping "How Lucky Can You Get" (from "Funny Lady"), as a disillusioned film star.
A few numbers that were great in the original shows, as well as in the 1991 revue, lack spark here, such as "The Grass is Always Greener," a duet between the bored socialite (Madsen) and a fawning housewife (Selah Victor), as each proclaims envy of the other woman’s lifestyle. This is a quintessential Kander and Ebb comic number, but the satire and raucous humor never ignite here, making the encore seem superfluous.
The spirited Madsen scores better in her shattering interpretation of "Colored Lights" (from "The Rink"), made all the more special by Bill E. Kickbush’s resplendent lighting design. Victor is exquisite in "Arthur in the Afternoon" (from "The Act"), about a housewife’s sordid daytime fling.
Andy Hammer’s scenic design is attractive, atmospheric, and highly functional, and Vicki Conrad’s costumes are stylish and colorful. Michael Brill’s music direction is first-rate, and adds a lot to the show.
"The World Goes ’Round" runs through October 14 at the Actors Co-op, 1750 N. Gower St., Hollywood. For info or tickets, call 323-462-8460, ext. 300, or visit actorsco-op.org