Entertainment

And the World Goes ’Round

by Les Spindle
Contributor
Wednesday Feb 6, 2013
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Ryan Ruge and Isaac James
Ryan Ruge and Isaac James  (Source:Ed Krieger)

For the second time in less this six months, L.A. is offering a revival of the nowadays rarely produced "And the World Goes ’Round," the award-winning 1991 Off-Broadway revue of songs by the celebrated songwriting duo of composer John Kander and his late partner, lyricist Fred Ebb.

Actors Co-op in Hollywood presented the show last September (reviewed in EDGE LA), under the show’s more commonly licensed title, "The World Goes ’Round." Now a debuting production company, Be Wild About Music, produces this piece under its original title at the NoHo Arts Center in North Hollywood. Fidelity to the original title seems fitting, as this new rendition is closer in spirit to that version, though not a carbon copy.

Unlike a concept that was devised for the Actors Co-op production, director Gary Lee Reed’s treatment of the material doesn’t try to impose a narrative framework on the diverse array of songs. The Co-op production certainly had its rewards, but the results that Reed achieves prove much more satisfying. His sparkling rendition celebrates the breadth and beauty of the Kander-Ebb songs and the formidable talents of his cast without trying to force the wide-ranging songs into an unnecessary framework.

As in the original 1991 production, subtle and seamless thematic links smoothly lead from one number into the next. And what a treasure trove of music there is to draw from! The list of Kander and Ebb’s classic Broadway shows is nothing less than staggering (including "Cabaret," "Chicago," "Kiss of the Spider Woman").

Yet the richness of their diverse oeuvre also includes many unforgettable songs from less commercially successful musicals ("Zorba," "Woman of the Year," "Flora the Red Menace." "Steel Pier," "The Rink" and more), memorable films ("Funny Lady," "New York, New York"), iconic television specials ("Liza With a ’Z’"), commercials (a hilarious "Sara Lee" ditty), and even one of Barbra Streisand earliest pop hits ("My Coloring Book"). A cavalcade of their magnificent songs provides the makings for a memorable evening of musical theater, which is exactly what Reed delivers in this jubilant and melodious production.

Director Gary Lee Reed celebrates the breadth and beauty of the Kander-Ebb songs and the formidable talents of his cast without trying to force the wide-ranging songs into an unnecessary framework.

The 1991 original version was first seen in L.A. in a 1992 touring production. What made that version so special -- besides a sensational cast -- was the ingenious staging of choreographer Susan Stroman ("The Producers") and director Scott Ellis. In this new production, choreographer Noel Britton serves the actors and the songs to great effect in her stylish and clever routines, including a lovely romantic ballet segment that dovetails with a medley of fine songs.

She brings equal flair to comic group numbers (the hilarious "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup" and "Me and My Baby"), sexy numbers ("All That Jazz" and "Arthur in the Afternoon") and highly athletic numbers such as "Pain" (about the physical woes of overtaxed dancers).

It’s highly satisfying that this production includes the delicious number "The Rink" from the show of the same name, which starred Liza Minnelli and Chita Rivera. Some productions excise this number, presumably because actors might not be skilled enough in the daunting demands of roller skating. Reed smartly embraces the limitations here, finding plenty of comedy in his cast’s attempts to sail across the stage, to less than graceful effect. And this song is among the bounciest Kander-Ebb creations ever.

Musical director/piano accompanist Joshua Eli Kranz becomes integral to the show, kicking things off with a clever prologue, and crooning the title song to the revue at the piano. One at first might miss the belting bravado that typically goes with this number, which was a showstopper for Liza Minnelli in the Scorsese film musical, "New York, New York -- yet Kranz’ mellower rendition is enjoyable, and he occasionally joins the cast in other numbers from his perch at the piano He and drummer/percussionist Alex Stickels provide excellent backup for the singers, bringing plenty of pizzazz and variety.

The five-member ensemble (Erica Hanrahan-Ball, Emily King Brown, Kristin Towers-Rowles, Isaac James and Ryan Ruge) masters a wide array of characterizations while acing myriad moods, as the songs range from funny to boisterous to rueful to dramatic.

Thomas S. Giamario’s set, devised as a stylish cabaret, is perfectly suited to the intimate performing venue and to the sophisticated showbiz ambiance, which is also enhanced by Daniel Mahler’s colorful costumes. Matthew Richter’s atmospheric lighting effects add to the triumph of mood.

"And the World Goes ’Round," runs through March 10 at the NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood. For info or tickets, call 323-960-4418 or visit www.plays411.net/world.

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