Post image for Theater Review: THE WORLD GOES ‘ROUND (REPRISE 2.0)

by Tony Frankel on September 6, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles


Musical revues are a tricky business. While highly enjoyable and entertaining, even high profile compilations such as Side by Side by Sondheim and the Fats Waller songbook Ain’t Misbehavin’ amount to little more than glorified cabaret shows. Jukebox musicals a la Smokey Joe’s Café (Leiber and Stoller) and the long running Broadway smash Jersey Boys (Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons) take the format a step further and attempt to add a through story to connect the songs, but the end result is the same.

When The World Goes ‘Round first premiered in the early ’90s’ it fell into the “revue” category. No one argued that the prolific team of John Kander and Fred Ebb was deserving of such a tribute and although the show went on to win numerous awards, in the end it was basically an “and-then-they-wrote” affair. But even without the sophistication of Sondheim and the rich character and vernacular of Waller, the show worked beyond its limitations because front and center are those wonderful songs from the writers of Cabaret, Chicago, and more (the only later success after 1991 included here is the titular song from the then work-in-progress Kiss of the Spider Woman). But we also need a knockout cast and director which fit the material.

For the second slot of its inaugural season, REPRISE 2.0 somehow decided to replace the cancelled Victor/Victoria (which is slated to make a comeback next season) with this five-person cabaret show. That doesn’t really make sense given audience’s expectations for big musicals which are rarely produced, or at least haven’t been seen in the area of late. The World Goes ‘Round is neither, as it continuously plays around the country and was inventively reimagined at Actors Co-op in Hollywood six years ago.

With vocal and dance arrangements by David Loud (uncredited for this production), Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman, and David Thompson conceived the show as a way to bring life to songs that had either been oversung within an inch of their lives or were simply unknown.

Instead of staging songs to find the heart and soul of them out of context, director Richard Israel, as usual, opts for vertiginous staging which is often too manic for us to connect with the performers, who are all veterans of musical theater but not often suited to the material. And as with most of his productions, Israel whirls the show along like a carnival ride; you would think the centrifugal force of his staging — I can’t call it directing — would have actors flying from the stage.

Even when the show slows down, or John Todd’s frantic but cute choreography takes over, it doesn’t really grab you until the second act, and much of that is due to the fact that we finally know what we are in for. There, the enchanting Kelley Dorney gives us a lovely “Quiet Thing,” and Valerie Perri — who shines in her interpretation of “Colored Lights” from The Rink — powers “Spider Woman.” Speaking of colored lights, Jared A. Sayeg’s lighting design is the perfect mood-setter and a character unto itself.

Streisand’s “My Coloring Book” (sung by Dawnn Lewis), The Happy Times’ “I Don’t Remember You” (Michael Starr), and Woman of the Year‘s “Sometimes a Day Goes By” (Larry Cedar) make up a trifecta of the boys’ early collaboration, sung at first individually and then in concert with each other, but it lost the opportunity to be affecting here. Indeed, “Sometimes a Day Goes By” from Woman of the Year is so poignant and rapturously melodic with lyrics so stunningly simple that it should be a blow to the solar plexus, and it’s simply lost here, especially in the strange nightclub setting where actors sit at cocktail tables watching each other sing (yep, that’s the concept). Cedar was better-suited for “Mr. Cellopane,” but this material simply wasn’t his metier, and Michael Starr, the handsome and charming chorus boy and uber-talented guy who missed the opportunity to be vulnerable in “Marry Me,” is now best-remembered as the guy who moved great and stripped down to his undies in “Arthur in the Afternoon.”

There’s some decent work here with smart vocals from the beautifully blended ensemble, and the orchestra simply rocks under Gerald Sternbach’s leadership, but at a top ticket price of $110, one would think we’d get something better than a generic way to reacquaint yourself with familiar favorites (“All That Jazz”), discover lesser known gems (“Coffee in a Cardboard Cup” from 70, Girls, 70), and appreciate Kander & Ebb’s timelessness (“Class” from Chicago still gets huge laughs). Apparently, “How Lucky Can You Get” makes for a great song, but it doesn’t apply to patrons. Here’s hoping things get back to great, as with the season opener Sweet Charity.

photos by Michael Lamont

The World Goes ‘Round
UCLA’s Freud Playhouse
Macgowan Hall, 245 E. Charles Young Dr.
Tues-Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on September 16, 2018
for tickets, call 800.982.2787
or visit Reprise 2.0

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